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South Korean nuclear envoy heads to Beijing

world Updated: Mar 24, 2009 11:08 IST

AP
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South Korea's top nuclear negotiator arrived Tuesday for meetings with his Chinese counterpart over stalled talks aimed at verifying North Korea's nuclear program and growing unease over the regime's plans to launch a rocket.

Wi Sung-lac was scheduled to meet with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei on Tuesday and Wednesday before heading to Washington for discussions.

The flurry of activity comes amid concerns about North Korea's declaration that it will fire a rocket in early April in violation of a U.N. ban prohibiting the country from ballistic activity. Some fear the launch will be a cover for a long-range missile. Wi will focus on working out contingency plans in case Pyongyang goes ahead with the rocket launch, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said.

"As the clock ticks, we are placing more weight on countermeasures after a launch," he was quoted by Yonhap as saying before he left for Beijing on Tuesday.

North Korea's premier visited Beijing last week and met with Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, both of whom urged the country to return to negotiating table after talks stalled late last year over verification of Pyongyang's nuclear program. The talks also include the U.S., Russia, Japan and South Korea. Wi also visited Japan last week to meet with Tokyo officials. North Korea has declared its intention to send a communications satellite into orbit sometime between April 4-8, stoking concern among neighboring countries that the launch is a cover for a test of its advanced missile technology.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted an unnamed intelligence official Monday as saying authorities "strongly believe" the launch will take place April 4-5 and believe it will involve a long-range missile - not a satellite.