High Level US Diplomat Begins Asia Tour

Posted January 3rd, 2012 at 10:50 pm (UTC-5)
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Senior U.S. diplomat Kurt Campbell has arrived in China, the first stop on a four-day tour that will also take him to South Korea and Japan.

Campbell, the assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific affairs, made no comments on arrival at the airport in Beijing Tuesday, but the State Department had said earlier that he will discuss “a range of important bilateral, regional and global issues, including the latest developments related to North Korea.

The three Asian countries are also close neighbors of nuclear-armed North Korea.

Campbell is the highest-level U.S. official to visit the region since the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak is due to visit China next week. His office announced early Wednesday that he will meet with Premier Wen Jiabao for talks that are expected to include North Korea's leadership transition after the death of its longtime leader Kim Jong Il.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted the country's defense ministry Wednesday as saying that Washington and Seoul will soon sign a joint operational plan to counter potential North Korean provocations and will hold regular joint exercises.

The United States, China, South Korea and Japan together with Russia are parties in the stalled six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear disarmament.

Pyongyang walked away from the talks in April 2009, but signaled last year that it would like the talks to resume.

One of the obstacles to the resumption of the talks is the continuing tension between the two Koreas. The two countries came to the brink of war in 2010 after North Korea launched an artillery attack on the South Korean island. Seoul also accuses Pyongyang od torpedoing its warship Cheonan earlier that year.

South Korean President Lee Myung-bak expressed optimism Monday that this year could be a turning point in the North Korean nuclear dispute. He said that Seoul was ready to resume six-party talks and provide economic assistance to the North, if Pyongyang agrees to suspend its nuclear activities.