French envoy calls for nuke talks

SEOUL: France's recently appointed special envoy on North Korea said Wednesday there should be "real and concrete discussions" if international talks on Pyongyang's nuclear programs resume.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il told the visiting Chinese prime minister, Wen Jiabao, on Monday that Pyongyang is willing to rejoin six-nation nuclear talks depending on progress in its negotiations with the U.S., according to Chinese and North Korean official media.

That raised hope for North Korea's possible return to the talks, from which it withdrew after conducting a rocket test in April and a second nuclear test in May. The regime said earlier it would never return to the talks involving China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the U.S.

Jack Lang, the French envoy on North Korea who was appointed by President Nicolas Sarkozy last week, has been on a tour of the six nations involved in the negotiations to evaluate ways France can help end the nuclear standoff.

Lang, who arrived in Seoul on Tuesday from Japan, said there should be "real and concrete discussions" if North Korea comes back to the negotiating table.

"We hope that it will be not only the opening of discussions, but it will be the way to change completely the situation," Lang told reporters after meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan.

Lang said he plans to visit North Korea around Nov. 10.

China said it welcomed North Korea's offer to return to the nuclear talks, saying late Tuesday that the six-party talks are the best way to achieve a nuclear-free Korean peninsula and they should resume as soon as possible.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Washington was aware of reports that North Korea would reconsider opening talks but said the United States had not gotten details of the meeting from the Chinese.

North Korea has been moderating its tone in recent weeks, signaling its willingness to resume a dialogue with the United States, China and other partners and backing away from the provocative behavior and rhetoric of the spring.

The North agreed in 2007 to disable its nuclear facilities in return for international aid. In June last year, the North blew up the cooling tower at its main nuclear complex near Pyongyang in show of its commitment. But the denuclearization came to a halt later in 2008 as Pyongyang wrangled with Washington over how to verify its past activities.