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(News Focus) With talks, U.S. buys time to stop N.K. nuke, missile provocations: experts
By Lee Chi-dong
WASHINGTON, July 24 (Yonhap) -- With North Korea and the United States set to restart high-level talks later this week, officials and experts here expect no immediate breakthrough or breakdown of the process.

   The Barack Obama administration's top priority is to forestall North Korea's nuclear and long-range missile activities and prevent an inter-Korean conflict that may lead to another war for the U.S., analysts pointed out.

   The U.S. expects North Korea to refrain from taking provocative actions, such as a third nuclear test, missile launch or attack on the South, at least while talks are under way, and in that sense Washington is likely to keep the dialogue phase alive for the time being, testing Pyongyang's seriousness about the next step, they said.

   Announcing a trip by North Korea's First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan to New York later this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton characterized his upcoming talks with U.S. officials as an "exploratory meeting."

   "As we have stated repeatedly, we are open to talks with North Korea, but we do not intend to reward the North just for returning to the table," she said in a statement. "We will not give them anything new for actions they have already agreed to take."

   Clinton did not make public an exact schedule.

   A diplomatic source said Kim will arrive in New York around Thursday for a two or three-day stay with travel to Washington or other areas unlikely.

   Kim, formerly Pyongyang's top nuclear negotiator, was promoted to the current post last year.

   He plans to meet with Stephen Bosworth, the U.S. special representative for North Korea affairs, once or twice in New York, according to the source. It would be their first talks since Bosworth visited Pyongyang in December 2009.

   Clinton's announcement on Kim's trip came just a couple of days after landmark bilateral talks between the top South and North Korean nuclear negotiators in Bali on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum.

   A group of American academics, led by Donald Zagoria, senior vice president of National Committee on American Foreign Policy (NCAFP), has long pushed for Kim's trip to New York in the form of an invitation to a forum, another source said.

   The State Department waited for the two Koreas to hold the so-called denuclearization talks before issuing a visa for Kim, added the source.

   South Korean government officials said Clinton's announcement in person of Kim's visit shows its significance but cautioned against excessive expectations.

   "The game has just started," a ranking official said on the condition of anonymity. "The first stage is not over yet."

   He was referring to the three-step denuclearization process: inter-Korean talks, North Korea-U.S. dialogue and six-party negotiations.

   "Our position is that South-North dialogue should be sustained," he said. "We can move to the third stage or go back to the first. It's up to North Korea's attitude. The first and second stages can even proceed simultaneously."

   He said Seoul may send its chief nuclear envoy Wi Sung-lac to New York this week to have prior consultations with Bosworth or receive a direct briefing on his talks with the North Korean official.

   Analysts agreed that the U.S. is unlikely to rush toward a deal with North Korea, although it has decided to resume talks out of concerns over its nuclear and missile activities.

   "The only way to stop those programs is negotiations," said Leon Sigal, senior researcher at the Social Science Research Council. "That makes it urgent for the United States to resume engagement and negotiations with North Korea,"

   He said he does not expect any instant breakthrough, however, as North Koreans now have a lot more leverage from experience with their two nuclear tests, uranium enrichment program and long-range missile technologies.

   "They are likely to ask for more. So, I expect no immediate breakthrough or breakdown," Sigal said.

   Michael Green, senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, also expressed doubts over meaningful progress.

   "The (Obama) administration's goal -- beyond trying to ease the atmosphere and avoid further provocations --is not so clear," he said.