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Clinton to visit Seoul over N.K. peace talks

China ups pressure over 6-party talks


Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will visit South Korea later this week to coordinate the allies’ position on the resumption of peace talks with North Korea, according to the U.S. State Department.

Clinton’s two-day trip to Seoul, which will begin Saturday, comes as regional powers have been increasing diplomatic efforts to restart the stalled denuclearization talks with communist Pyongyang over aid and its ongoing nuclear ambitions.

Clinton “will meet with President Lee Myung-bak as part of efforts to strengthen the alliance and to discuss cooperation on regional issues,” U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.

China, a member of the stalled six-nation talks and also North Korea’s longstanding ally, has been pushing to resume negotiations at an early date, claiming dialogue is the best way to defuse tensions.

After meeting with North Korea’s chief nuclear envoy, Kim Kye-gwan in Beijing, China’s top nuclear negotiator Wu Dawei again accentuated views that contrasted with those of Seoul and Washington.

China is closely reviewing “a phased resumption of the six-party talks,” Wu said, adding full-scale negotiations should resume followed by inter-Korean dialogue and bilateral talks between Pyongyang and Washington.

The six-nation talks, also involving Russia and Japan, have been stalled since the end of 2008, deepening diplomatic and financial isolation for the reclusive North Korea.

The senior Chinese official also said there was “no need” to bring North Korea’s uranium enrichment program to the U.N. Security Council, denouncing a longstanding attempt by South Korea and the United States.

Clinton’s trip to South Korea will follow a visit to Washington by South Korean chief nuclear envoy Wi Sung-lac to discuss ways to reopen the six-party talks and possible food aid to the North, reportedly suffering from deepening food shortages.

Wi was scheduled to meet officials including Stephen Bosworth, U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, Sung Kim, special envoy for the six-party talks, Robert Einhorn, the State Department special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control, and Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, Washington said.

Washington, as well as other dialogue partners, has been urging Pyongyang to first mend ties with Seoul, making better inter-Korean ties a condition for the resumption of the six-party talks.

“We don’t want to talk for talk’s sake,” Toner said. “We want to see North Korea improve North-South relations and to demonstrate a change in behavior. Last year was marked by a series of provocative actions, and we want to see an end to those actions.”

North Korea attacked a Seoul warship and a border island last year, claiming the lives of dozens of South Koreans, incidents for which the North refuses to apologize.

North Korea, meanwhile, invited former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to visit Pyongyang late this month in apparent hope he will play middleman in mending ties between the sides. In 1994, Carter met with then-North Korean leader Kim Il-sung and brokered a bilateral deal during the first North Korean nuclear crisis.

By Shin Hae-in and news reports  (hayney@heraldcorp.com)
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