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Clinton Visits Seoul to Discuss North Korean Denuclearization Talks

South Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-Hwan walks together with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to a meeting room at the Foreign Minister's Residence in Seoul, South Korea, April 16, 2011

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Seoul Saturday for a two-day visit. Her trip comes as multinational efforts to pressure North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program remain deadlocked. The visit started days after Pyongyang said it is holding a U.S. citizen on unknown charges.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Seoul to discuss efforts to resume six-nations talks on North Korea's nuclear program.

Those talks, which involve the United States, both Koreas, China, Japan and Russia, have been on hold for more than two years.

The United States and South Korea say the discussions cannot resume until North Korea shows it is sincere about honoring past promises to dismantle its nuclear program.

Some analysts say other South Korean preconditions are making it more difficult for the talks to resume.

Moon Chung-in, a politics lecturer at Seoul’s Yonsei University, says Seoul’s insistence that Pyongyang apologize for last year’s sinking of a South Korean warship and shelling of a South Korean island is preventing the negotiations from starting again.

"South Korea has been calling for inter-Korean talks first and get an apology from North Korea. Then it will allow to resuscitate the six party talk process. But Washington and Beijing appear to have a sense of urgency in resuming the six-party talk processes," said Moon.

North Korea denies it had anything to do with the March 2010 sinking of the South Korean ship, which killed 46 South Korean sailors. An international investigation said the ship was torpedoed. Pyongyang also says it was provoked by the South’s military to bomb Yeonpyeong Island, an attack that killed four.

The United States and South Korea also want to bring North Korea’s uranium enrichment program to the United Nations Security Council. Pyongyang had denied for years that such a program existed, but last year revealed it to a visiting American scientist.

Moon says China, which has so far blocked any discussion of the enrichment program at the U.N., has a better approach.

"The United Nations Security Council has already adopted two sanctions resolutions but they are not working. The Chinese government has been arguing that it is much wiser to deal with the enriched uranium program in the six party talks process rather then going through another sanctions regime," said Moon.

Clinton’s trip to Seoul comes days after North Korea announced it will try a detained U.S. citizen on unknown charges.

Some observers say North Korea could use this as a bargaining chip to win concessions from Washington.

But Moon notes during previous incidents where Americans were arrested in the North, Pyongyang did not gain anything from releasing them.

Last August, former U.S. president Jimmy Carter traveled to Pyongyang to win the release of an imprisoned American human rights activist. Mr. Carter is expected to return to North Korea later this month with a group of other former world leaders for talks on regional tensions. It is not clear if he will also try to gain the release of the detained American.