Hillary may make Seoul detour for crisis talks

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Hillary may make Seoul detour for crisis talks

U.S. State Secretary Hillary Clinton may visit Seoul later this month, sources in Washington said, which would cap off weeks of diplomatic coordination between South Korea and the U.S. following the sinking of a South Korean naval vessel in March.

Clinton is scheduled to visit Beijing on May 24. A senior State Department official told reporters on the condition of anonymity that Clinton is “sure to make at least one stop besides China, but that is still being worked.”

Asked about Clinton’s Asian itinerary, Philip Crowley, State Department spokesman, said, “The secretary plans to travel to Asia this month, and we’re still working on her schedule.”

The investigation into the cause of the March 26 Cheonan sinking is expected to be complete sometime next week.

Clinton’s visit, if realized, would further demonstrate solidarity between Washington and Seoul following the Cheonan disaster. American military and civilian experts have joined South Korean investigators in the ongoing probe.

South Korea has said if North Korea is found to have been behind the incident, it would raise the issue at the United Nations Security Council and press for sanctions. The United States is a veto-wielding permanent member of the Security Council and would back the South Korean cause as an ally.

The United States has not officially pointed to North Korea as the culprit. But officials in Washington have already begun discussing responses in case that is the conclusion of the probe, sources said earlier this week.

South Korea and the United States also share the position that the stalled six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program will not resume before the conclusion of the Cheonan investigation.

Another key U.S. official is in Seoul this week. Sung Kim, chief U.S. nuclear envoy at the six-party talks, arrived in town yesterday to meet his South Korean counterpart, Wi Sung-lac.

Kim had joined Kurt Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific affairs, on a trip to Beijing Tuesday. Kim will depart for Washington today.

A South Korean Foreign Ministry official said Kim wanted a closed-door meeting with Wi and that Kim would not brief South Korean journalists.

“We will hear what the U.S. and Chinese officials discussed this week and then will explain what has been going on in Seoul,” the official explained.

A senior South Korean diplomat is traveling to Washington this week to discuss preparations for the meeting of foreign and defense ministers of the two countries later this year.

Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Yong-joon will meet Campbell to lay the groundwork for the meeting between the top officials. Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates are expected to visit Seoul this year for a joint meeting with Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan and Defense Minister Kim Tae-young.

A foreign ministry official said in a background briefing that the officials will also talk about the Cheonan sinking.

“The focus of this trip is to prepare for the ministerial meeting, but when they review security issues, the Cheonan is sure to come up,” the official said.

By Yoo Jee-ho [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]

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