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US, N. Korea Mull Restart of Nuclear Talks Next Month
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The US and North Korea have discussed restarting six-party talks on the Korean Peninsular nuclear issue next month, South Korea's foreign minister was quoted as saying yesterday.


The two countries' top nuclear envoys -- US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan -- held a surprise meeting Wednesday in Beijing, brokered and attended by China.


It came days after a visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to China.


"It's true that Hill discussed the possibility of a February resumption when he met the chief North Korean and Chinese delegates in Beijing recently," South Korea's Yonhap News Agency quoted Ban Ki-moon as saying.


But a resumption date was not fixed yet, Ban said. He earlier returned from Washington where he held talks with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.


Foreign Ministry officials in Seoul could not be reached for comment Sunday night.


Media have recently reported that China has suggested February 6 as a restarting date for the nuclear talks. The reports could not be confirmed.


The six-party nuclear talks -- launched in 2003 -- produced a breakthrough accord in September when North Korea agreed to give up its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security assurances.


However, the talks have been recessed since November and have stalled over the North's anger at US sanctions imposed over the country's alleged currency counterfeiting and other illicit activities.


North Korea has alleged it won't return to the negotiating table unless the sanctions are lifted. The US has urged the North to return without conditions, saying the sanctions are a law enforcement issue unrelated to the nuclear matter.


"During my visit to the US, South Korea and the US agreed that the North should return to the six-party talks without any preconditions," Ban said.


He said Seoul would consult other concerned countries about resuming the talks next month.


The nuclear row flared in 2002 over US allegations that North Korea pursued a clandestine nuclear program in violation of international agreements. The North has denied the assertion.


(Chinadaily.com.cn via agencies, January 23, 2006)


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