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Clinton due in S. Korea to discuss N. Korea, mutual interests

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was to arrive Saturday in South Korea to meet with senior officials here and discuss ways to bring a disciplined North Korea back to dialogue and put an end to its growing nuclear ambitions.

The trip, her first since last July to this Asian ally with strengthening ties to the United States, comes after she attended a round of talks of foreign ministers from NATO countries in Germany.

Following her South Korean visit, which is expected to include meetings with Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan and President Lee Myung-bak, she will fly to Japan for the final leg of her global tour, officials here said.

"It is likely that she will meet with our foreign minister on Saturday and President Lee on Sunday," a foreign ministry official here said, asking to remain unnamed as details had yet to be fixed.

While in Seoul, she will also discuss a variety of issues of mutual interest, including the ratification of a free trade agreement that the sides signed in 2007, other officials said.

Clinton's brief two-day trip, in particular, comes amid growing efforts toward the resumption of six-nation talks aimed at denuclearizing North Korea through political and economic benefits.

The talks, which group the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia, have not been held since December 2008. Earlier this week, China's top nuclear envoy Wu Dawei proposed in front of reporters after meeting with his North Korean counterpart in Beijing that the nuclear delegates of the two Koreas hold dialogue

to pave the way for the resumption of the six-nation talks.

The South said it would welcome such a meeting as the North had long brushed aside the prospect of inter-Korean talks on its nuclear arms programs, which it says are aimed at deterring U.S. invasion.

Clinton's visit comes as the World Food Program and other U.N. relief agencies are recommending a massive amount of food assistance to feed the most vulnerable groups in North Korea such as children and pregnant women. The U.S. and South Korea have been reluctant to fully embrace the U.N. findings that about a quarter of the 24-million population in the North need some 430,000 tons of food.

Humanitarian assistance from the South to the North instantly dried up after the communist neighbor bombarded a South Korean island in the Yellow Sea last November. Seoul had already been holding Pyongyang responsible for the deaths of 46 of its sailors when their warship sank near the border with the North in March.

North Korea denies torpedoing the ship while blaming the South for the artillery clash. South Korean President Lee said on the airwaves on April 1 that his country would continue to demand apologies as a precursor to the resumption of the six-party talks. (Yonhap News)