Prospects for fresh talks about ending North Korea's suspected nuclear program looked brighter yesterday after the US and South Korea said it saw encouraging signs in a Chinese diplomatic initiative.
A day after the two Koreas traded machinegun fire across their heavily armed border, South Korea's focus turned to Chinese efforts to persuade communist North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions and end a crisis that erupted nine months ago.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Australian Prime Minister John Howard, key allies of US President George W. Bush, are also visiting the region to add urgency to the latest flurry of diplomatic activity.
Howard emerged from talks with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun yesterday saying China's efforts to coax its old ally North Korea to the negotiating table were "promising." He said Roh "believes that North Koreans in the end will act rationally."
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo was to brief US Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington yesterday on his meeting last weekend with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
Dai is believed to be carrying a letter from Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) to Bush, a senior Bush administration official said.
South Korean diplomats in Beijing briefed by Dai were quoted anonymously in the Seoul media as saying they were told Pyongyang was ready to follow up the three-way talks held in April between US, North Korean and Chinese officials in Beijing.
Washington has said it will keep pressing for five-way talks that include South Korea and Japan, the countries most directly threatened by a nuclear-armed North Korea, but it has not excluded three-way discussions.
"There is very active diplomacy that is pointing in the direction of getting multilateral discussions started again, but [I'm] not going to count the chickens before they're hatched," a senior State Department official told reporters.
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