S Korean diplomat arrives in Beijing for nuke talks


Wed, Mar 17, 2004 - Page 5

South Korea's point man on the North Korean nuclear standoff arrived in Beijing on Tuesday, saying he was in town to help set up a "working group" that will push for progress in the 17-month standoff.

Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Soo-hyuck said he would meet with Chinese officials but didn't elaborate on his schedule. He was set to stay in Beijing for two days.

"We are going to discuss the formation of the working group," Lee told reporters upon arrival at Beijing's Capital International Airport. He said he was not part of the working group but only in Beijing for "planning" purposes to help it get started.

Last month, six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program in Beijing brought together the Koreas, the US, China, Russia and Japan. Lee led Seoul's delegation.

They were trying to resolve a stalemate between Washington and Pyongyang that began in October, 2002, when the US said the North had acknowledged a nuclear weapons program whose existence would violate a 1994 treaty.

The talks ended with a joint but unsigned "chairman's statement" that underscored the importance of keeping the process going -- including by creating the lower-level working groups to hash out obstacles that might not be suitable for the high-level talks.

The US demands an immediate, verifiable end to the North's nuclear ambitions. Pyongyang has said it would consider complying only if Washington offers aid and agrees in writing not to attack.

Lee's boss, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, has cautioned the North against using Seoul's recent political turmoil and Friday's presidential impeachment as "an excuse to be reluctant or to try avoiding six-party talks."

Said Lee: "I don't think our own political situation will have any impact on the six-party talks."