North Korean nuclear envoy arrives in Beijing

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

BEIJING -- North Korea's nuclear envoy flew into Beijing today as his counterparts from the United States, China, South Korea and Japan gathered to hammer out plans to restart talks on dismantling the reclusive nation's nuclear weapons program.

The arrival of North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan has heightened expectations he may meet U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, although no plans have been announced.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said a meeting between Hill and Kim is "certainly an open possibility."

Officials have yet to determine an exact date for the six-nation disarmament negotiations, which also involve Russia.

Hill met with South Korea's nuclear envoy, Chun Yung-woo, and China's negotiator, Wu Dawei, Tuesday morning, said Susan Stevenson, the spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. She did not have any details on the talks.

Japan's representative Kenichiro Sasae told Japanese reporters that he had held talks with Wu and Hill separately but denied that there were any plans for multilateral discussions between the negotiators.

In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said Sasae and Wu discussed plans for the nuclear talks and bilateral relations.

"We are naturally exchanging opinions on what kind of results the resumption of the six-party talks should produce," Shiozaki said.

An unannounced meeting between Hill and Kim last month in Beijing led to North Korea agreeing to return to the arms negotiations amid heightened tensions after its first nuclear test on Oct. 9.

The talks have been stalled for more than a year because of North Korean anger over financial sanctions imposed by the United States.

Chun has said getting preparations right for progress at the talks was more important than setting a date for restarting the negotiations.

"We will mainly focus on the procedure of the talks as it is essential to accomplish substantial progress rather than talking just for the sake of talking," he told reporters after arriving in Beijing on Monday.

The six-nation talks were last held in November 2005 when the envoys failed to make progress on implementing an earlier agreement, in which the North pledged to give up its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security guarantees.

"The holding of the six-party talks is on the horizon, so I hope to discuss ways to make progress in the six-way talks, as well as ways for Japan and China to cooperate over the issue," Japan's Sasae said, according to Kyodo News.

Hill said he will stay in Beijing "a couple of days" and then go to Seoul and Tokyo.

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