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US envoy due in Seoul amid NKorea N-plans

SEOUL/ WASHINGTON: The top US envoy on North Korea heads to Seoul on Sunday to discuss ways to thwart Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions amid fresh concerns about its uranium enrichment programme.
Stephen Bosworth’s visit to the main regional powers this week comes amid a flurry of reports about the North’s developing nuclear programme. Analysts say the reports are part of the North’s time-honoured strategy to gain leverage in negotiations.
Bosworth will meet his South Korean counterpart Wi Sung-lac and the country’s foreign minister, Kim Sung-hwan, today for talks on ways to resume stalled aid-for-disarmament talks with the North, officials said.
A foreign ministry official in Seoul said reports that the North was building a uranium enrichment facility would also be raised during his visit, but could provide no further details.
Bosworth will travel to Tokyo and Beijing after his stop in Seoul. South Korea’s Wi will also go to Beijing on Monday.
Sources familiar with the North’s nuclear ambitions said in Washington on Saturday that a US nuclear scientist saw hundreds of centrifuges in the North this month, adding to worries it is seeking a second way to obtain fissile material for atomic bombs.
Atomic experts who visited the North’s main nuclear complex this month also reported seeing construction of another new facility, believed to be an experimental light-water reactor, and there have been reports of activity at a nuclear test site.

North Korea, which walked out on talks to disable its atomic arms programme last year, has said it wants to return to the negotiating table. Experts say this is a sign that sanctions are hurting its economy.
Analysts say by showing off its nuclear hand, it is seeking to boost its capability to win concessions.
“This is no surprise at all, though it is real concern,” said Kim Tae-woo at the Korea Institute for Defence Analysis. “North Korea has said it wants to sit down for six-party talks, and this will absolutely increase its leverage.”
It is difficult to verify any reports on North’s nuclear programmes because international nuclear inspectors were expelled from the country some 18 months ago. The North’s reported nuclear advances come nearly two months after Kim Jong-il initiated the transition of power to his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, and analysts say he wants to use nuclear muscle to boost his son’s credentials with the powerful military. -Reuters


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