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North Korean official to go to U.S. for nuclear talks

- Associated Press - Sunday, July 24, 2011

BALI, Indonesia (AP) — A senior North Korean minister will visit the United States this week to discuss the possible resumption of long-stalled international negotiations on ending Pyongyang's nuclear programs, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Sunday.

The news that diplomats could be close to reviving six-nation disarmament talks that broke off in 2008 comes after more than a year of animosity and high tension between the rival Koreas and is welcome news for a region on edge. Two attacks Seoul blames on Pyongyang last year killed 50 South Koreans and led to threats of war.

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan will travel to New York at Clinton's invitation, though the exact days were unclear. The announcement follows an earlier meeting between Clinton and the foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan on the sidelines of a regional forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, in Bali, Indonesia, where officials from 27 nations discussed security.

During Kim's trip, he will meet with a team of U.S. officials to explore his country's commitment to returning to the international talks and taking concrete steps toward disarmament, Clinton said in a statement issued as she was leaving Bali.

The nuclear negotiations involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

"We are open to talks with North Korea, but we do not intend to reward the North just for returning to the table," Clinton said in the statement. "We will not give them anything new for actions they have already agreed to take. And we have no appetite for pursuing protracted negotiations that will only lead us right back to where we have already been."

On Friday, nuclear negotiators from North and South Korea met for the first time since the disarmament talks collapsed in 2008. The North walked out of the 2008 talks to protest international criticism of a prohibited long-range rocket launch.

During Friday's meeting, the Korean envoys agreed to work toward the resumption of the stalled talks, a significant breakthrough after more than a year of tension that has put the region on edge.

North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun said in comments released Sunday by the country's state media that the Korean peninsula now stands "on the crossroads of detente and the vicious cycle of escalating tension."

The countries involved, Pak said, must "make the best use of (the) opportunity of dialogue and make a bold decision to settle the fundamental issue."

Diplomats have been eager for the two rivals to ease tensions.

Since the last round of talks, North Korea has conducted a second nuclear test and revealed a uranium enrichment facility that could give it another way to make atomic bombs.

Recent North Korean threats against Seoul's conservative government include a pledge to retaliate over South Korean soldiers' use of pictures of the ruling North Korean family for target practice.

But North Korea also has indicated a willingness to return to the six-nation talks, which have held out the incentive of badly needed aid.

It has been South Korea that has shown reluctance, demanding first that the North apologize for last year's attacks before agreeing to nuclear talks. The U.S. has stood by South Korea, saying Seoul must be satisfied with the North's sincerity before Washington will act.

The North's reasons for returning to the talks include a need to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough and outside aid ahead of the 2012 centennial of the birth of the country's founder, Kim Il Sung.

South Korea's government is seen as being eager not to be blamed for leaving the disarmament talks suspended. Analysts say the government of South Korean President Lee Myung-bak may want to report progress before it leaves office in early 2013.

South Korea and the U.S. say North Korea must demonstrate a commitment to abandoning its nuclear programs. Seoul has demanded a show of regret for the deadly sinking of one of its warships a year ago that the South blames on a North Korean torpedo, and for a North Korean artillery attack on a front-line island in November that killed four South Koreans.

The two Koreas remain in a technical state of war because their three-year conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, in 1953. The United States has 28,500 troops in the South. That presence is cited by the North as a main factor behind its need to build a nuclear program.

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Klug reported from Seoul, South Korea.

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Online:

State Department background on North Korea: http://www.state.gov/p/eap/ci/kn/

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