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Top U.S. officials due here for talks on North Korea

New USFK commander visits Seoul


SEOUL/WASHINGTON ― Senior U.S. officials will travel to South Korea later this week to discuss North Korea, bilateral ties and other issues of bilateral and regional concern, the State Department said Monday.

Kurt Campbell, assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs, “arrives in Seoul on March 12, and he will meet with senior officials,” Philip Crowley, State Department spokesman, told reporters.

Wallace Gregson, assistant secretary of defense for Asian and Pacific security affairs, will also visit Seoul later this week, Crowley said.

Campbell and Wallace will also travel to Japan and Mongolia just ahead of their South Korean trip, the spokesman said.

Crowley did not elaborate on the issues Campbell will discuss while in Seoul, but North Korea’s uranium enrichment program will likely be among the topics.

Pyongyang disclosed in November a uranium enrichment plant that could be used to make nuclear weapons apart from its plutonium program. The North claims its intention is to generate electricity.

Robert Einhorn, the State Department’s special adviser for nonproliferation and arms control, said in Seoul last week that South Korea and the U.S. will seek a U.N. Security Council presidential statement to condemn the North’s uranium program before moving on to the six-party talks.

China, North Korea’s staunchest communist ally, opposes the Security Council dealing with the uranium program, citing a lack of concrete evidence and its possible adverse impact on an early resumption of the nuclear talks involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

The multilateral nuclear talks have been deadlocked for more than two years over the North’s missile and nuclear tests and attacks on the South Korean warship Cheonan and Yeonpyeong Island that killed 50 people last year.

Seoul and Washington demand Pyongyang apologize for the provocations before any resumption of the talks, while Beijing wants the six-party talks to reopen as soon as possible without any conditions attached.

North Korea reportedly jammed GPS signals as part of electronic warfare against the ongoing South Korean-U.S. military exercises in South Korea.

The North has threatened to react militarily and warned of a nuclear war in protest of the annual military exercises.

A new commander for U.S. troops in South Korea is on a two-day visit to Seoul for consultations with military leaders here on North Korean issues, officials said Tuesday.

Gen. James Thurman, who was nominated early this month to replace Gen. Walter Sharp as commander of U.S. Forces Korea, arrived in Seoul on Monday, said a USFK official.

On Monday, Thurman observed the ongoing joint drills set to end Thursday and met Gen. Han Min-koo, chairman of the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, military officials here said.

He met South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin before returning home late Tuesday.

Thurman will take the helm of the USFK in June.

(From news reports)
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