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N.Korea invites U.S. envoy for nuclear talks: reports
Mon Aug 24, 2009 11:12pm EDT
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By Jon Herskovitz
SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea has invited the U.S. envoy overseeing relations with the reclusive state to visit for nuclear talks next month, South Korean media said on Tuesday, the latest in a recent series of conciliatory gestures.
In another sign it is ready to take the chill out of relations, the North agreed to talks on Wednesday between Red Cross societies from either side of their heavily armed border to resume reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 Korean War.
Pyongyang stopped the reunions almost two years ago in anger at the hardline policies of the South's conservative government.
Analysts say the North may be softening its tone with U.S. and South Korean adversaries in an attempt to ease pressure on its coffers, depleted by U.N. sanctions for its nuclear test in May and facing the threat of a poor harvest.
U.S. envoy Stephen Bosworth would lead a delegation first traveling to South Korea, China and Japan to discuss stalled six-way disarmament-for-aid talks with the North before heading to Pyongyang, the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper said, citing a senior diplomatic source in Washington.
It would mark the first official nuclear talks between North Korea and the Obama administration.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted a diplomatic source in Washington as saying the North extended the invitation when former President Bill Clinton visited Pyongyang this month to win the release of two jailed U.S. journalists.
U.S. embassy officials in Seoul, where Bosworth was this week, would not comment on the reports.
U.S. officials have said separately they are willing to hold direct talks with North Korea but only as part of six-country disarmament negotiations involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.
The six-party talks, hosted by the North's biggest benefactor China, broke down at the end of last year with Pyongyang saying it sees the format as dead.
REACHING OUT TO SEOUL
Philip Goldberg, the U.S. coordinator for the U.N. sanctions on North Korea, has been in Asia in the past week to seek support for the punishments aimed at stamping out the North's arms trade, which analysts say provides it with hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
The North's vital agriculture sector has also taken a blow this year by flooding that hurt farmland and could bring more harm to its wobbly economy.
The latest gestures by the impoverished state have made little impact on South Korea's financial markets, long used to sharp changes in the North's diplomacy and which continue to weigh as a background risk for Asia's fourth largest economy.
North Korea has all but severed ties with the South after President Lee Myung-bak took office in February 2008 and ended the steady flow of unconditional aid. Continued...
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