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Nuclear envoys of two Koreas to hold talks in Beijing next week

SEOUL, Sept. 16 (Yonhap) -- The chief nuclear negotiators of South and North Korea will meet in Beijing next week, a senior Seoul diplomat said Friday, in the second high-level, inter-Korean contact in nearly two months amid cautious hopes that they were inching toward resuming the broader talks on the North's nuclear weapons programs.

Wi Sung-lac of South Korea and Ri Yong-ho of North Korea will hold the talks in the Chinese capital "in the middle of next week," the diplomat said on the condition of anonymity.

The nuclear envoys met in Indonesia for the first time in more than two years in late July, setting the tone for renewed diplomatic efforts to reopen the stalled six-party talks, which also involve the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

"Both sides agreed to hold the second round of talks between chief nuclear negotiators from South and North Korea in Beijing in the middle of next week," the diplomat said.

"We are arranging a specific date for the talks, possibly on Tuesday or Wednesday."

Since the July talks between Wi and Ri, Seoul and Washington have engaged in preliminary discussions with Pyongyang to gauge the possibility of restarting the six-party talks.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, during a rare summit on Aug. 24 with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, reportedly pledged to consider issuing a moratorium on nuclear testing and missile launches if the six-party talks resume.

South Korea and the U.S., however, have reacted coldly to the North's latest gesture, urging Pyongyang to announce such a moratorium and address concerns about its uranium enrichment program before the multilateral negotiations begin.

The North's uranium program is among the key hurdles to the resumption of the six-party dialogue, which has been stalled since late 2008.

In November last year, North Korea revealed the existence of a uranium enrichment facility, adding urgency to check Pyongyang's nuclear weapons development.

The North claims the uranium enrichment program is for peaceful energy development, but outside experts believe that it will give the country a new source of fission material to make atomic bombs, in addition to its widely known plutonium-based nuclear weapons program.

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