U.S. says Park's trip to China 'very helpful' to diplomacy on N. Korea

By Lee Chi-dong

WASHINGTON, June 27 (Yonhap) -- A U.S. government official voiced optimism Thursday that South Korean President Park Geun-hye's ongoing visit to China will have a positive effect on efforts to press North Korea to take denuclearization steps.

"We think it's very helpful that she goes to China and talks directly (with the Chinese)," James Zumwalt, the deputy assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said at a congressional hearing on Korea.

"I think she will be asking China to use its influence to persuade North Korea to become serious about living up to its commitment to denuclearization."

Park had her first summit talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on Thursday (local time). They agreed to work together for the resumption of the six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program.

Xi expressed support for Park's initiative to build mutual trust with North Korea for the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula.

Zumwalt stressed the importance of China's cooperation in dealing with North Korea, citing their economic ties and geographical proximity.

"We have had extensive discussions with South Korea about relations with China, and we're very comfortable with President Park's visit," he said.

After months of provocations and threats, Pyongyang has apparently shifted to a peace offensive. Earlier this month, it offered high-level talks with Washington.

But the Barack Obama administration made clear the North should show its seriousness about dialogue through actions, not rhetoric.

Zumwalt said the return of IAEA inspectors to the secretive communist nation's main nuclear facilities in Yongbyon can be a meaningful measure.

"One type of step it could take is inviting back the IAEA into its own nuclear program, and that would provide a lot of reassurance in the region," he said, stopping short of elaborating on other conditions.

The official said the U.S. has no confidence yet in North Korea's intentions behind the latest overtures despite a lull in its provocative statements or acts.

"We will not accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed state, nor will we reward the DPRK (North Korea) for the absence of bad behavior or compensate the DPRK merely for returning to dialogue," he said.

He stressed Washington-Pyongyang relations can't fundamentally improve without "sustained improvement in inter-Korean relations.

Many South Koreans believe the North is seeking to bypass the South and talk directly with the U.S. in a bid to drive a wedge between the allies.

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