US and China meet about North Korea

Top US and Chinese negotiators met today for discussions on luring North Korea back to nuclear disarmament talks, after Washington dismissed the North’s latest threat to resume long-range missile testing as counter-productive.

Top US and Chinese negotiators met today for discussions on luring North Korea back to nuclear disarmament talks, after Washington dismissed the North’s latest threat to resume long-range missile testing as counter-productive.

The US Embassy said Christopher Hill, the US ambassador to Seoul and Washington’s top negotiator in the nuclear talks, and Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Wu Dawei met, but declined to release any details.

Wu arrived yesterday for a three-day trip to Seoul and has also met South Korean officials, including seeing Unification Minister Chung Dong-young after his talks with Hill.

International efforts to bring the North back to the six-party talks gained urgency after its February 10 claim that it had built nuclear weapons and will boycott international disarmament talks indefinitely.

Yesterday, the North demanded Washington drop its alleged “hostile” policy toward the communist regime and apologise for labelling it an “outpost of tyranny.” Pyongyang also threatened to resume long-range missile tests if Washington failed to meet its demands.

In Washington overnight, US State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said that such a threat was “not helpful and doesn’t serve a useful purpose. And I think it’s not consistent with the spirit with the six-party talks.”

Ereli reiterated the long-standing US position that the six-party discussions on North Korea’s nuclear programmes should resume without preconditions. “If they have questions or issues that they want to address, then that’s the place to do it,” Ereli said.

Meanwhile, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda expressed hope today that the six-way talks would resume soon, but denied having any specific information on their resumption.

“I think North Korea is inching closer to (the resumption of talks) as we try to persuade the North,” Hosoda told reporters in Japan. “I expect that a decision to resume talks would be made soon.”

Since 2003, Beijing has hosted three rounds of inconclusive six-party negotiations, which also involve South Korea, Japan and Russia. A fourth round scheduled for September never took place because North Korea refused to attend.

In previous talks, North Korea has demanded more aid and a non-aggression treaty with Washington in exchange for giving up its nuclear development.

The United States, meanwhile, wants the North to immediately and verifiably dismantle all its nuclear facilities before granting any concessions.

Some foreign governments have expressed scepticism over the North’s announcement that it has nuclear weapons, with some suggesting the claim is intended as leverage to gain concessions in talks.

Despite the nuclear stand-off, North and South Korea continue to co-operate on other levels. The South’s Unification Ministry said today the two Koreas will launch a joint civilian committee to prepare for the fifth anniversary celebration of the breakthrough June 2000 inter-Korean summit between then-South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and North Korean ruler Kim Jong Il.

The summit was a dramatic move for the two Koreas – who technically remain at war – that dramatically boosted ties, mostly through economic projects that provide the North with badly needed cash.

The committee will be officially launched tomorrow at the tourist resort of Diamond Mountain on the communist country’s east coast, officials said.

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