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N. Korea Nuclear Talks May Start Soon, say US Officials


Diplomatic efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis continue in Tokyo and Seoul, where two top U.S. officials have been meeting with Japanese and South Korean officials. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said Monday in Tokyo that multinational talks to resolve North Korea's nuclear crisis could take place shortly.

His words echo a statement Sunday from Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, who said in Seoul that he was "mildly optimistic" that talks would be held later this month.

The United States, North and South Korea, China, Japan and Russia attended a first round of talks in August in Beijing, but they made no firm progress.

Mr. Armitage underscored the U.S. government's commitment to peacefully ending the dispute, but he warned that North Korea's effort to build nuclear weapons is a regional threat.

"There is a dangerous and unstable situation in one of the most dynamic and heavily populated regions in the world," he said. "And unfortunately, all of the stopgap measures we tried in the past to end North Korea's nuclear weapon programs failed and the stakes are too high."

He also said the United States would support Tokyo on raising the issue of Japanese kidnapping victims at the next round of talks.

"On the question of abductees, it is important for the United States that in the six-party talks, the United States makes clear that all issues, all issues, can be discussed," he added.

North Korea abducted several Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s for spying purposes. The five known surviving abductees have returned to Japan, but the issue is far from resolved.

Tokyo wants the abductees' families to join them in Japan, a request North Korea has so far refused. Japan also wants more information on other kidnapping victims. Japanese officials say the issue must be resolved before the matter of North Korea's nuclear weapons programs can come to a peaceful ending.

Mr. Armitage is in Japan for bilateral strategic talks, while Mr. Kelly was in Seoul to meet with South Korean officials.

The crisis flared in October of 2002, when U.S. officials said the reclusive communist state admitted it was violating international treaties by running an illegal nuclear program. North Korea denies it ever made such an admission.

Washington is demanding a complete end to the North's nuclear programs, while Pyongyang wants a security guarantee from the United States. Washington says it will offer such a guarantee within "a multilateral forum" after Pyongyang ends its nuclear endeavors.