China, which will host six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program next week, has announced the list of diplomatic participants who will converge on Beijing in a bid to start a dialogue with Pyongyang on the issue, RFA reports.
The North Korean team will be led by deputy foreign minister Kim Yong-il, a relatively junior official who worked closely with Beijing to set up the talks, according to statement on the Chinese foreign ministry Web site. The choice of Kim, rather than a diplomat better known US officials, could signify Pyongyang's intention to use the talks to align itself more closely with Beijing.
U.S. assistant secretary of state James Kelly would represent Washington, while vice foreign minister Wang Yi, would lead the Chinese delegation. Russia's envoy would be Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov, Japan's would be Foreign Ministry official Mitoji Yabunaka, and South Korea's Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Soo-hyuck, the foreign ministry statement said.
Kim formerly served as his ministry's director-general of Asian affairs. His deputy, Ri Gun, was the top delegate to the last round of three-way nuclear talks in April, involving North Korea, the United States and China.
Meanwhile, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun held a telephone discussion with his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao. Roh thanked China for setting up the six-nation talks, and explained the South Korean position ahead of the negotiations. Hu promised to strengthen cooperation with Seoul on the nuclear issue.
North Korea has toughened its stance ahead of the talks, demanding that Washington agree to a non-aggression pact and diplomatic normalization, in addition to a promise not to hinder North Korea's international trade. The United States has rejected demands for a non-aggression pact although Secretary of State Colin Powell has suggested that the U.S. Congress may be able to take note of a less formal arrangement.
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.