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Korean nuclear envoy to visit U.S., China

South Korea's chief nuclear envoy will visit Washington and Beijing next week for talks with his counterparts on how to restart long-stalled negotiations with North Korea, Seoul's foreign ministry said Friday.

Hwang Joon-kook, special representative for Korean peninsula affairs, will meet with his U.S. counterpart, Amb. Sung Kim, in Washington on Monday before visiting Beijing for talks with his Chinese counterpart, Wu Dawei, on Wednesday, the ministry said in a statement also released in Washington.

Hwang's discussions are expected to focus on ways to hold "exploratory talks" with North Korea, a compromise form of negotiations aimed at meeting both Pyongyang's demand for unconditional resumption of talks and the U.S. insistence that any formal negotiations should begin only after Pyongyang takes concrete steps demonstrating its denuclearization commitment.

Five dialogue partners with North Korea -- South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the U.S. -- have reportedly reached a consensus on holding "exploratory talks" with Pyongyang, but the communist nation has not shown any interest yet.

"Through this trip, we expect to strengthen cooperation for substantial progress in the North Korean nuclear issue by holding a broad range of discussions with key countries, including assessments of the current situation and ways to resume denuclearization talks," the ministry said.

The six-party talks aimed at resolving the North Korean standoff have been stalled since late 2008. North Korea demands the unconditional resumption of negotiations, while the U.S. says that Pyongyang must first take concrete steps demonstrating its denuclearization commitments.

As the six-party talks have been idled, the North has bolstered its nuclear capabilities and stockpile and conducted its second and third nuclear tests, in 2009 and 2013. Some experts now warn that the communist nation's nuclear arsenal could expand to 100 bombs by 2020.


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