US diplomat arrives for Korean disarmament talks

The US State Department's number two diplomat arrived in South Korea today amid intense diplomacy aimed at ensuring North Korea keeps its pledge for nuclear disarmament.

The US State Department's number two diplomat arrived in South Korea today amid intense diplomacy aimed at ensuring North Korea keeps its pledge for nuclear disarmament.

US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte is meeting with South Korean officials today and tomorrow to discuss the February 13 accord reached after international arms talks with North Korea.

The country agreed to shut down its sole operating nuclear reactor within 60 days.

In China yesterday, Negroponte said North Korea must keep its promises and also declare all its nuclear activities that will be eventually dismantled.

"It's important that we follow up on the initial agreement," Negroponte said at a news conference at the end of a visit to Beijing, where he met Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and other top officials.

The US and North Korea were set to begin bilateral talks on normalising ties today in New York - a move that could eventually lead to diplomatic relations between the longtime foes.

While in China, Negroponte also called for more openness from Beijing about increases in defence spending.

Asked if Washington was dissatisfied with China's current level of transparency, he replied: "I think that's fair to say."

The spokesman for China's legislature said yesterday that its defence budget for 2007 would rise by 17.8% to 350.92bn yuan (€34.51bn), the highest level since 1995.

South Korea is Negroponte's final scheduled stop on an Asian tour that also included Japan.

The trip was his first abroad since being confirmed last month as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's deputy.

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