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Envoys in China for North Korea nuclear talks

Top US and South Korean diplomats were due to meet Chinese officials on Wednesday as part of the latest international efforts to nudge North Korea back to stalled nuclear disarmament talks.

world Updated: Feb 24, 2010 10:55 IST

Top US and South Korean diplomats were due to meet Chinese officials on Wednesday as part of the latest international efforts to nudge North Korea back to stalled nuclear disarmament talks.

China, the host of the six-party talks and the communist North's only major ally, has said the future of the on-off talks depended on the willingness of Washington and Pyongyang to work together.

The talks began in 2003 and have been on hold since the North stormed out 10 months ago.

Washington's special North Korea envoy Stephen Bosworth was to discuss the disarmament issue when he meets Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei in Beijing on Wednesday, Chinese and US officials said.

South Korea's chief negotiator Wi Sung-Lac was also expected to hold talks with Wu during his two-day trip, which began on Tuesday.

Bosworth, who was travelling with US chief nuclear negotiator Sung Kim, was due to visit Seoul and Tokyo after his stop in Beijing.

Both the US and South Korean envoys were expecting to be briefed on the visit to Beijing two weeks ago by North Korea's nuclear negotiator Kim Kye-Gwan.

Media reports have said the North is insisting on its preconditions for returning to dialogue: the lifting of UN sanctions and a US commitment to discuss a formal peace treaty on the Korean peninsula.

The United States, South Korea and Japan say the North must first return to dialogue and show it is serious about denuclearisation before other issues are dealt with.

Under deals in 2005 and 2007 the North agreed to scrap its nuclear weapons in return for aid and major diplomatic and security benefits, including a formal peace pact.

But the talks became bogged down by disputes over ways to verify disarmament and in April last year the North quit them altogether.

China is the reclusive communist state's only major ally, its main trade partner and its chief supplier of desperately needed food and oil.

On Tuesday, a senior North Korean Communist Party official, Kim Yong-Il, met with his Chinese counterpart Wang Jiarui and President Hu Jintao.

The North Korean official discussed the nuclear issue and delivered a message from leader Kim Jong-Il to Hu, the China Daily reported.

Pyongyang, which tested atomic weapons in October 2006 and May 2009, says it developed nuclear weaponry because of a US threat of aggression, and it must have a peace pact before it considers giving them up.

The 1950-1953 Korean War ended only in an armistice. Seoul officials suspect talk of a peace treaty is an excuse to delay action on the nuclear programme.