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Top N Korean nuclear envoy set to arrive in Japan

Written by: Staff
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TOKYO, April 7 (Reuters) North Korea's top negotiator to six-way talks on Pyongyang's nuclear arms programme was due to arrive for a rare visit to Japan on Friday that could provide an opportunity to restart stalled discussions on the thorny issue.

North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan left Beijing and headed for Tokyo, where he will be joined next week by envoys from the other countries taking part in the six-way talks, aimed at preventing a nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula.

Some analysts have billed the gathering as a de facto version of the six-party negotiations, but Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso played down that assessment.

''Just because all the participants will be here...doesn't mean it will suddenly be formal six-way talks,'' Aso told reporters.

Asked about possible bilateral discussions, he said: ''Even if they make efforts to meet secretly...nothing can happen until we see what North Korea has in its brief case.'' The six participants in the nuclear talks -- the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia -- agreed in principle in September that Pyongyang would dismantle its nuclear programmes in exchange for aid and improved diplomatic ties.

But the last session in November ended without progress.

North Korea has said it would be impossible to return to the talks while Washington is taking action against it for alleged counterfeiting, drug trafficking and money laundering. North Korea has denied involvement in any illegal activities.

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.

''The United States, particularly Mr. Hill, is well aware of our position,'' Kyodo news agency quoted Kim Kye-gwan as saying in Beijing when asked by reporters if he would meet Hill in Tokyo.

Hill has no plans to meet the North Korean official but has not ruled out doing so, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters in Washington.

Korea experts said the gathering could set the stage for resuming the formal negotiations, but also said it would be tough to narrow the gap between Washington and Pyongyang.

REUTERS KD VC0835

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