WRAPUP 4-U.S. seeks China's help in reining in North Korea
* U.S. envoy Bosworth meets South Korean officials
* Bosworth heading to Beijing, Seoul cautious on talks
* N.Korea calls on South for unconditional talks
(Updates with N.Korea call for "unconditional" talks)
By Sylvia Westall
SEOUL, Jan 5 (Reuters) - The United States sought China's help in persuading its long-time ally North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons, sending its envoy to Beijing on Wednesday as part of a campaign to press the North.
The U.S. envoy for North Korea policy, Stephen Bosworth, met South Korean officials in Seoul before heading to China. Washington hopes talks on dismantling North Korea's nuclear work can start soon, though a breakthrough may prove elusive.
North Korea issued a statement demanding what it described as "unconditional" talks with the South and calling for an end to any actions that could cause one side to provoke the other on the divided peninsula.
But it was uncertain the South would heed any such call less than two months after the North bombarded a South Korean island off disputed waters, killing four people.
North Korea's reclusive and often unpredictable leaders have made repeated pledges in the past to regional powers on doing away with its nuclear programme with little practical result.
"We demand unconditional talks between responsible authorities (of the South and the North)," the North's KCNA news agency quoted the statement, issued jointly in unusual fashion by the government, the ruling Workers' Party of Korea and other organisations.
"We are prepared to meet with anyone regardless of the past if it is someone who is willing to go hand on hand with us to the future."
It further proposed "discontinuing heaping slander and calumnies on each other and regraining from any act of provoking each other in order to create an atmosphere of improving inter-Korean ties".
Tension on the Korean peninsula rose to its highest levels since the 1950-53 Korean War after last year's sinking of a Southern ship which killed 46 sailors, the exchange of artillery fire around the southern island, revelations of nuclear activity by the North and threats of war.
President Barack Obama's national security adviser met China's foreign minister on Tuesday in Washington and stressed the need to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons work and "avoid destabilizing behaviour", the White House said.
China and the United States must get parties back to talks and present ways to soothe tension, Seoul's JoongAng Daily said.
"A war in the region would be catastrophic for not only the two Koreas, but their respective allies, the United States and China," it said in an editorial.
In Seoul, U.S. envoy Bosworth met South Korea's foreign minister and nuclear negotiator. Bosworth does not appear to be in the region to unveil a U.S. proposal to get the North back to negotiations, but said he was collecting views from all sides.
Consultations are likely to focus on whether to restart disarmament-for-aid talks involving the United States, the two Koreas, Japan, China and Russia.
Asked whether the United States was putting pressure on Seoul, Bosworth said: "Never."
He offered no further comments, saying he was due in China later on Wednesday and would be in Japan on Thursday.
Speaking after his meeting with Bosworth, South Korea's foreign minister sounded a cautious note about whether the six-party talks could restart, calling them a "useful negotiating tool" for disarming North Korea.
"But the right conditions, including North-South dialogue, are needed for there to be real progress," Kim Sung-Hwan was quoted as saying by the Yonhap news agency.
"It depends on the North's behaviour whether it will choose path of conflict or peace."
The flurry of diplomatic activity precedes a meeting this month between Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao, with North Korea certain to be a central topic.
In recent days, all sides have suggested they are willing to restart the six-party talks which collapsed more than two years ago when North Korea walked out.
The North is keen to return to the negotiating table where in the past it has won substantial aid after stoking tension.
"The Korean nation should defuse the confrontation between the north and the south at an early date," North Korea's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said on Wednesday, according to comments carried by KCNA.
Analysts say North Korea's actions in 2010, and China's protection of it from serious consequences, left Washington, Seoul and Tokyo more closely aligned in policy than ever before, which may make it easier to approach Pyongyang.
Still, observers question whether the North, which has tested nuclear devices twice in recent years, will be prepared to give up its atomic work which it sees as a cornerstone of a "military first" policy, and a powerful bargaining chip. (Additional reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Ron Popeski)
- Tweet this
- Share this
- Digg this