N Korean official to go to US for nuclear talks

The recent diplomacy comes after more than a year of hardline unity by Washington and Seoul.

Bali: A senior North Korean official will visit the United States this week to discuss the possible resumption of long-stalled international negotiations on ending Pyongyang`s nuclear programs, US 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 raises hopes in a region on edge. Two attacks Seoul blames on Pyongyang last year killed 50 South Koreans and led to threats of war.

Hillary`s invitation for North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan to visit New York follows a crucial meeting Friday between nuclear negotiators from North and South Korea on the sidelines of a regional forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, in Bali. It was the first such meeting since disarmament talks collapsed in 2008, and the envoys agreed to work toward the resumption of six-nation negotiations.

The recent diplomacy comes after more than a year of hardline unity by Washington and Seoul since international investigators said a North Korean torpedo sank a South Korean warship in March of last year, killing 46 sailors. The South demanded the North show regret for the warship sinking and an artillery attack on a front-line South Korean island that killed four in November.

North Korea denies a role in the sinking and says South Korea provoked the island shelling. While refusing to apologize, however, Pyongyang has repeatedly shown a willingness to return to the disarmament talks. The North is seen as needing a diplomatic breakthrough and outside food aid ahead of the 2012 centennial of the birth of the country`s founder, Kim Il Sung.

"We are open to talks with North Korea, but we do not intend to reward the North just for returning to the table," Hillary said in a statement announcing Kim Kye Gwan`s trip to the US."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."

The wariness is in line with past US statements that ally Seoul must be satisfied with the North`s sincerity before Washington will act.

During Kim`s trip, he will meet with a team of US officials to explore his country`s commitment to returning to the international talks and taking concrete steps toward disarmament, Clinton said in the statement.

It was unclear what days Kim, the North`s former chief nuclear envoy, will visit New York. The announcement follows an earlier meeting between Clinton and the foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan in Bali.

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

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.

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.

Bureau Report

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