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U.S. to host talks on N. Korea

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Bush criticized North Korea's Kim Jong II as a leader who "starves his folks."

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States, Japan and South Korea will have a "trilateral" coordination group meeting next week to discuss the nuclear situation in North Korea, a State Department spokesman said Thursday.

The meeting will be held in Washington. James Kelley, assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs, will lead the U.S. delegation, and will go to the region shortly thereafter, said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

U.S. officials have spoken in recent weeks of a peaceful resolution to the standoff with North Korea over its recent moves toward a nuclear build-up.

Earlier in the day, after talks in Beijing, South Korean officials announced that South Korea and China will try to settle the North Korean nuclear crisis through negotiations.

"South Korea and China reaffirmed the principle of resolving North Korea's nuclear problem peacefully through dialogue," said Shin Chung-Seung, director general of the Asia-Pacific office of the South Korean foreign ministry.

He offered no details, however, on how the two nations planned to go about that effort.

A senior U.S. administration official called those talks "encouraging," and said "nobody is ruling out talks" with North Korea.

"We want them to reverse their course," the official said. "We will not negotiate with North Korea, we will not give them inducements. But we are not ruling out talks."

In statements at his ranch in Texas, President Bush criticized North Korea's Kim Jong II as a leader who "starves his folks." But the president reiterated his belief that the standoff with the isolated nation over its development of nuclear weapons could be resolved diplomatically.

"It was right here at this spot where Jiang Zemin, the leader of China, and myself got together and put out a joint declaration that we expect for the Korean peninsula to be nuclear-weapons-free," Bush said. "I believe the situation with North Korea will be resolved peacefully. As I said, it's a diplomatic issue, not a military issue, and we're working all fronts."

South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Tae-sik met with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing.

Diplomats said Lee was believed to have urged China, an ally that has given impoverished North Korea substantial economic aid, to play a more active role in ending the standoff.

South Korea also plans to send Assistant Foreign Minister Kim Han-Kyong to Moscow later this week for talks with Russian officials as part of its diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue of North Korea's nuclear weapons program, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Kim Eui-Take.

North Korea announced last week it would reactivate the Yongbyon plant -- which is capable of producing enough weapons-grade plutonium to make two or three nuclear bombs per year -- and then told International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to leave the country.

The North Korean news agency KCNA carried a statement over the weekend hinting North Korea was considering pulling out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which it threatened to do in 1993.

-- CNN Producer Elise Labott and White House Correspondent Suzanne Malveaux contributed to this report.



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