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 US to send envoy to N Korea to get talks restarted

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PostSubject: US to send envoy to N Korea to get talks restarted   Fri Nov 20, 2009 10:30 am

BARACK OBAMA ended his first trip to Asia as US president in Seoul yesterday, saying an American envoy would visit North Korea early next month to try and kick-start stalled negotiations about quelling the North’s nuclear ambitions.

He joined South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak in urging the communist state back to nuclear talks, seen as central to ensuring stability in the region.

Tensions have been raised in the north Asian region by a series of nuclear weapon tests and missile launches by North Korea, but in recent months there have been positive signs, including the release of two US journalists convicted of spying after they wandered across the Chinese border into North Korean territory.

Mr Obama will send special envoy Stephen Bosworth to Pyongyang. He will try and convince North Korea to rejoin six-party nuclear disarmament talks which it quit in April, a month before it staged a second atomic weapons test. The delegations include China, the US, Russia, both Koreas and Japan.

“We will be sending ambassador Bosworth to North Korea on December 8th to engage in direct talks with the North Koreans,” Mr Obama said.

Mr Obama was in the Blue House in Seoul meeting his Korean counterpart after a relatively challenging inaugural trip to China. The jury is still out on whether his maiden voyage to Beijing was a success.

In broader terms, Mr Obama’s trip was aimed at breathing new life into US-Asian diplomacy, which had suffered from a kind of inertia in the latter part of the administration of George W Bush.

Mr Obama has been criticised for not being forthright enough with the Chinese, although he appears to have done much to assuage niggling doubts in Japan and South Korea that Washington is keen to nurture close ties with countries other than China, the world’s emerging superpower.

On the one hand, it appeared that Washington was more accommodating than usual to Beijing’s demands on trade issues, but Mr Obama also managed to deliver some key political messages despite the fact that the US is keen not to anger cash-rich China at a time of global financial turmoil.

South Korea is a great ally of the United States, and there are 28,500 US troops stationed there, mostly around the demilitarised zone that divides the Korean peninsula since the Korean War (1950-53), which ended without a peace agreements.

Mr Lee said Mr Obama had backed his “grand bargain” for North Korea – a package of economic assistance and investment in exchange for full nuclear disarmament in a single step rather than the piecemeal approaches that have twice failed over the past two decades.

“I think President Lee is exactly right and my administration is taking the same approach,” Mr Obama said.

Pyongyang maintained a combative tone and accused the allies of stoking tensions.

The North has made “sincere” efforts to defuse tensions on the peninsula and improve cross-border relations, Rodong Sinmun, the North’s ruling communist party newspaper, said in a commentary.

There were tensions about a free trade pact which is awaiting ratification by Congress, although Mr Lee appeared willing to make concessions on the deal to help American’s troubled car makers.

Mr Obama also had a tough message for the Iranians, saying the US and its allies were discussing possible new sanctions to put fresh pressure on Tehran for defying international attempts to halt its contested nuclear programme.

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