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US Says Multilateral Talks Are North Korea's Best Option

Washington's top delegate to the talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program says he looks forward to the results of inter-Korean meetings this week. But he again stressed the urgency of North Korea returning to multilateral negotiations as soon as possible.

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill says he is "looking forward to hear" what North and South Korean delegations are discussing in Pyongyang this week, as they commemorate their nations' historic 2000 summit meeting.

South Korean officials are expected to use the Pyongyang visit to try to coax North Korea back to nuclear disarmament talks, which also involve the United States, Russia, China, and Japan. The North, which says it has nuclear weapons and intends to make more, has boycotted the talks for a year.

Mr. Hill is Washington's top envoy to the talks. After meeting in Seoul with his South Korean counterpart, Deputy Foreign Minister Song Min-soon, he told reporters it is in everyone's interest that the talks are restarted. "The North Koreans should believe in the six-party process. The situation is not going to get any better for them. While time is not on our side, it is definitely not on their side either," he said.

North Korea says it needs a "nuclear deterrent" because of what it calls the "hostile policy of the United States." On Thursday, the North's number two leader, Kim Yong Nam, said Washington's policy toward Pyongyang has changed very little. President Bush has repeatedly said the U.S. has no intention of attacking the country.

But Washington has warned it will not wait indefinitely for the North to return to the talks, and has hinted that "other options" may become necessary, including United Nations involvement. While urging North Korea to set a firm date to resume negotiations, Mr. Hill said the U.S. would not set a deadline for Pyongyang.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao dismissed earlier criticism by Mr. Hill that China was not doing enough to encourage North Korea to resume negotiations. Mr. Liu stressed that China has always tried very hard to find a solution to the North Korean nuclear issue, and that its efforts have been acknowledged by the international community.

The two Koreas are scheduled to hold ministerial level talks next week in the South Korean capital. North Korea, which is experiencing severe food shortages, is likely to appeal for further humanitarian aid. South Korea is expected to use the talks as another chance to persuade the North to come back to the nuclear talks.