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N Korea talks back in focus as envoys head for Japan

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TOKYO, Apr 6 (Reuters) Chief negotiators for six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear arms programmes are set to gather in Tokyo next week for discussions that could provide a chance to persuade Pyongyang to return to the stalled negotiations.

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan has received permission for a rare visit to Tokyo and will join envoys from the other countries taking part in the multilateral talks, which are aimed at preventing a nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula.

''This is a miniature version of the six-party talks and North Korea wants to send a message that it has no intention of scrapping the six-party framework,'' said Noriyuki Suzuki, chief analyst at the Tokyo-based Radiopress news agency, which monitors North Korean media.

The six countries in the nuclear talks -- the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia -- agreed in principle in September that the North would dismantle its nuclear programmes in exchange for aid and better diplomatic ties.

But the last session in November ended without progress and North Korea has said it would be unthinkable to return to the table while Washington is taking action against its alleged counterfeiting, drug trafficking and money laundering. North Korea has denied involvement in any illegal activities.

Kim Kye-gwan, a top aide to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, is expected to arrive in Japan later this week, a source in Tokyo with close ties to Pyongyang told Reuters.

U S chief negotiator Christopher Hill will arrive in Tokyo on Monday for a private forum on security issues, and South Korea's new envoy, Chun Yung-woo, will also be in the Japanese capital along with China's chief delegate, Wu Dawei.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao denied the gathering was a formal resumption of the stalled six-way talks.

But he told reporters in Beijing it would be ''a good opportunity for the delegates to exchange views to discuss how to overcome difficulties and ensure an early resumption of six-party talks''.

MORE REUTERS OM HT1810

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