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China's deputy nuclear envoy in Pyongyang for talks on N. Korean nuclear standoff
SEOUL, Feb. 21 (Yonhap) -- China's deputy nuclear envoy is visiting North Korea, an official said Monday, a possible sign that Beijing is stepping up efforts to resume six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear programs.

   Amb. Yang Houlan arrived in Pyongyang on Sunday on a trip to accompany Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun, and the two countries are expected to discuss ways to reopen the stalled six-party talks, the official said on condition of anonymity.

   Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported Sunday that Zhang arrived in Pyongyang and held talks with North Korea's chief nuclear envoy, Kim Kye-gwan.

   The trip came days before Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi's scheduled visit to Seoul on Wednesday and Thursday. The source said Chinese officials are expected to brief Seoul on the outcome of Zhang's trip to the North during the foreign minister's trip here.

   Concern about North Korea's nuclear ambitions has escalated after Pyongyang revealed in November that it was running a uranium enrichment facility. Uranium, if highly enriched, can be weapons grade, providing Pyongyang with a second way of building atomic bombs.

   South Korea has called for a tough international response to the uranium program, including taking the matter to the U.N. Security Council. But China, a veto-holding member of the Security Council, is negative about the move.

   Seoul, Washington and Japan have also urged Pyongyang to take concrete steps demonstrating its denuclearization commitment and to take responsibility for last year's two deadly attacks on the South -- the March sinking of the South's warship Cheonan and the November shelling of the South's border island of Yeonpyeong -- if the six-party talks are to reopen.

   The nuclear talks, involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the U.S., have been stalled since the last session in December 2008.

  
A Chinese delegation, including Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun (fifth from L), poses for a photo after arriving in Pyongyang on Feb. 20. (KCNA-Yonhap)

jschang@yna.co.kr
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