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U.S. Pursuing Talks With 4 Nations on N. Korea

From the Associated Press

The top U.S. envoy at stalled North Korean disarmament talks said Thursday that the United States wants to meet with China, Japan, Russia and South Korea next week to figure out a way to persuade the regime in Pyongyang to return to the negotiations.

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill told reporters that the goal was to include North Korea at the gathering on the sidelines of the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations’ annual meeting of foreign ministers in Malaysia. But, he said, “the North Koreans don’t seem to want to go to six-party meetings right now.”

Since November, the North has boycotted the six-nation talks on its nuclear weapons production program. Two weeks ago, Pyongyang test-fired seven missiles.

The five-party talks, Hill said, could include other nations in the region and could focus on additional security arrangements in Northeast Asia.

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Hill also told reporters after a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing that he could not confirm reports that Iranian officials had witnessed the July 5 launches. He said he had misspoken when he told lawmakers earlier that he could confirm such reports.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack also said he could not confirm the reports. When asked whether the North Koreans were trying to market weapons, he said, “With respect to weapons, anything that isn’t bolted down, they’re ready to sell.”

During the hearing, Hill testified that the U.S. would have no problem with one-on-one contact with Pyongyang on the sidelines of six-nation negotiations.

But, he said, the Bush administration is not prepared to “torpedo” multinational talks to meet separately with the North, as Pyongyang wants.

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North Korea has said it won’t return to the multinational talks because of U.S. sanctions over accusations of counterfeiting and money laundering.

Senators pressed Hill on why the North defied international warnings to launch the missiles.

The North Koreans “pride themselves on being opaque,” he said. “Often what goes on in North Korea stays in North Korea.”

Hill said he believed North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s decision had backfired. Even China was displeased, he said.

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