Six-party nuclear talks in Beijing 'just the beginning'

A North Korean athletic delegation has arrived in South Korea for the World Student Games in Daegu, ahead of key six-party talks in Beijing aimed at halting Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program, RFA's Korean service reports.

More than 200 athletes, officials, and journalists flew south for the event, their decision to go ahead taken just days after North Korean authorities said they would withdraw in reaction to an anti-Pyongyang flag-burning protest in Seoul.

The decision to attend the games came after South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun voiced regret for the incident.

Roh asked Unificiation Ministry officials to find a way to stop further flag-burning rallies. "Burning the North Korean flag and Chairman Kim Jong Il's portrait was inappropriate behavior," Roh said. "It was regrettable, and I am hoping it won't happen again."

Meanwhile, officials are playing down hopes of an agreement at weekend talks in Beijing, in which diplomats from North Korea, South Korea,the United States, China, Japan, and Russia will take part.

The talks, aimed at addressing concerns over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program, will be "just the beginning of a long process," South Korea's foreign minister Yoon Young-kwan said. U.S. Ambassador Thomas Hubbard also warned against high expectations.

"We don't enter into talks without some degree of hope and optimism that they will succeed," Hubbard said. "But I don't think that we can expect early, quick results."

Yoon said the most important thing was to keep the a dialogue going. The talks would hope to "build confidence that we can resolve the matter through dialogue... and possibly set the date for the next round of talks," he said.

The North Korean Student Games delegation seemed willing to put a cheerful face on things on its arrival in South. "Brothers in the South, we are happy to see you," said Jon Guk-man, head of the North Korean delegation.

According to official media, Pyongyang decided to attend the games "due to the ardent wish to achieve reconciliation and unity between our nations, which are connected by a single bloodline." Seoul is paying all expenses for the North Korean team.

Fears that Pyongyang was just months away from developing nuclear weapons intensified last October, after North Korean officials said the country had succeeded in re-processing spent nuclear fuel rods--a crucial step in the building of a nuclear bomb using enriched uranium. #####

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