Condoleezza Rice wants North Korea to return to nuclear talks

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday urged North Korea to return to six-nation talks without conditions. During a meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, Rice called efforts to break a deadlock in negotiations and persuade North Korea to scrap its nuclear programs "extremely important." "We are both urging North Korea to come back to the talks without conditions," Rice told reporters at an appearance with Ban.

Comparing the North Korean situation to international efforts to stop Iran's nuclear program, Rice said, "North Korea also is being told by the international community ... (it) must dismantle its nuclear weapons."

The North has refused to resume negotiations until the United States ends financial sanctions meant to halt alleged weapons proliferation and counterfeit currency distribution by North Korea. America says nuclear negotiations are unconnected to the sanctions.

The meeting between Rice and Ban follows reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, in a rare foreign trip, told China's president he was committed to a peaceful resolution of the nuclear standoff.

Ban told reporters Thursday, "We take note of what chairman Kim Jong Il has said that he reaffirmed a commitment to denuclearize the Korean peninsula and also a commitment to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue peacefully through dialogue, particularly through six-party talks".

South Korean news reports said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the lead American envoy to the talks, met Wednesday in Beijing with his North Korean counterpart, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan, to discuss reviving their efforts.

On Thursday, China said it had set up a meeting between U.S. and North Korean officials this week in Beijing to try to restart the negotiations, which began in 2003, reports the AP.

D.M.