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U.S., South Korea, Japan Prepare to Discuss North Korea Atomic Standoff

High-ranking diplomats from the United States, Japan, and South Korea are slated next week to discuss the longstanding dispute over North Korea's nuclear weapons program, the Korea Times reported on Thursday.

U.S. special envoy for North Korea policy Glyn Davies and the top two senior atomic negotiators from Japan and South Korea, Shinsuke Sugiyama and Lim Sung-nam, on Wednesday will "jointly assess the current situation with the North Korean nuclear issues and discuss ways to maintain stability on the Korean Peninsula," an anonymous official told the Times.

Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington frequently see eye-to-eye on how to respond to North Korea and the Obama administration has sought to deepen that collaboration. However, a long-simmering feud between Japan and South Korea over a contested group of small islands in recent weeks has greatly strained ties between the East Asian states.

The three countries are all participants in a moribund regional process aimed at achieving an irreversible shutdown of the North's nuclear weapons project. The six-party aid-for-denuclearization talks also include host nation China, North Korea and Russia. The last round of negotiations was held in December 2008.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns is also anticipated to discuss North Korea when he visits Tokyo and Seoul in the coming few days, the Yonhap News Agency reported.

"Obviously, we always talk about North Korea when we're in North Asia and our efforts to try to get them to show some new movement and new commitment in the context of the proposals that the six parties have made," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

In the nearly four-year absence of any six-party talks, North Korea has carried out a second atomic test, revealed a uranium enrichment program, and made substantial progress in constructing a light-water nuclear reactor that could be used to produce plutonium for a warhead. Still, analysts largely concur the isolated nation is experiencing a number of technical difficulties in developing and building a deliverable and credible nuclear weapon.

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