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South Korea's top negotiator with North Korea headed to U.S. for high-level talks

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ South Korea's top envoy to North Korea will travel to the United States for high-level talks amid stalled negotiations on getting the communist nation to give up its nuclear weapons program, officials said Friday.

Unification Minister Chung Dong-young will leave Monday for Washington and meet with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, a ministry spokesman said on condition of anonymity.

The two countries want to resolve the nuclear issue with the North in talks that also include China, Japan and Russia. However, the next round of negotiations scheduled to take place by the end of September has been thrown into doubt because the North says it won't attend preparatory meetings.

The dispute over North Korea's nuclear ambitions came after the isolated nation admitted in 2002 to running a secret nuclear program in violation of international agreements.

South Korean officials and analysts believe Pyongyang is seeking to put off the talks until after the November presidential elections, hoping it will have an easier time negotiating if Democratic challenger John Kerry unseats Bush.

North Korea has recently leveled strong rhetoric against Bush, calling him an ``imbecile'' and comparing him to Adolf Hitler.

South Korea's prime minister, Lee Hae-chan, said North Korean leader Kim Jong Il should visit the South _ fulfilling a pledge made after the landmark June 2000 summit between the two nations' presidents in Pyongyang _ before a summit be held between the nation's premiers.
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