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S. Korean Envoy in Beijing for Talks on N. Korea

A South Korean presidential envoy is in Beijing for talks on convincing North Korea to ends its alleged nuclear weapons program. Ra Jong-yil arrived in Beijing from Moscow, where he discussed the dispute with Russian officials.

South Korea's national security advisor, Ra Jon-yil, is on the second leg of a diplomatic mission to North Korea's two closest allies, Russia and China. Now in Beijing, he is meeting with Chinese officials in an effort to break the diplomatic impasse over North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

Pyongyang demands direct talks with Washington on the issue, but the Bush administration wants the talks held in a multilateral forum involving North Korea's neighbors: Japan and South Korea as well as Russia and China.

China previously urged Washington to hold direct talks with Pyongyang, but now it says it will support other measures that might end the stand-off. Beijing briefly halted oil supplies to North Korea last month, the first indication that it might be willing to put serious pressure on the isolated Stalinist state.

However, James Lilley, a former ambassador to China and South Korea, does not expect China's new government to take a bold stance on the issue. "They have not committed themselves to anything and they usually go their own way. But what you will see is over time, if they go along with you [the U.S., South Korea, etc], and they are really concerned about the weapons of mass destruction, then they better turn the pressure on North Korea," he says. "But it is a very complicated formula."

The South Korean envoy, Mr. Ra, refused to speak with journalists when he arrived in China, but his visit underscores Seoul's strong desire for a way of ensuring a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.

In Moscow, Mr. Ra met with Russian officials to discuss a South Korean proposal: providing Russian natural gas to energy-starved North Korea in exchange for Pyongyang's halting its nuclear program.

South Korea's gas-for-cooperation proposal would replace a similar but now defunct 1994 U.S.-North Korean pact. Under that agreement, North Korea agreed to suspend its nuclear program in return for supplies of fuel oil from Washington and its allies.

But U.S. officials say that in October, North Korea admitted to running a secret nuclear weapons program in violation of the 1994 pact, and Washington and other nations responded by halting the fuel shipments. Tensions have mounted since then, with the North withdrawing from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and expelling United Nations nuclear inspectors.