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Thursday, September 21, 2006

North Korea avoids meeting of 8 nations

North Korea stayed away from a gathering of diplomats from the United States and seven other nations Thursday that focused on the specter of a nuclear North Korea.

"They don't like to talk to people," Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said following the gathering on the sidelines of the annual United Nations opening session.

China and Russia also skipped the meeting, although they are members of the international coalition that reached a breakthrough disarmament bargain with Pyongyang a year ago. That agreement has never taken effect and North Korea is boycotting further talks in protest of what it calls unfair U.S. financial sanctions.

Hill called the North Korean complaint a pretext for ignoring its responsibilities to give up nuclear weapons ambitions under the 2005 agreement. He said the original coalition of the United States, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea remains ready to resume negotiations with the North.

Thursday's meeting involved foreign ministers from Australia, Indonesia, New Zealand, Canada and the Philippines, in addition to the United States, Japan and South Korea.

Hill said several participants criticized China for failing to do enough to bring North Korea back to talks, but he said the United States was not among them. China is the North's closest ally and has served as an intermediary.

North Korea seeks to normalize its relations with the U.S. but also says its nuclear program is a deterrent to fend off a possible U.S. invasion.

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