Clinton warns North Korea against threats, calls for talks

Seoul - US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Friday called on North Korea to fulfil its nuclear disarmament promises and return to the negotiating table, while warning it against making further threats against South Korea.

"North Korea is not going to get a different relationship with the United States while insulting and refusing dialogue with South Korea," she said on a visit to Seoul amid what the United States and South Korea have said are North Korea's preparations for a missile test.

"We are calling on the government of North Korea to refrain from being provocative and unhelpful in a war of words that it has been engaged in because that is not very fruitful," Clinton said after meeting with South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung Hwan.

The two diplomats urged Pyongyang to unconditionally return to talks and said their countries would in no way accept a nuclear-armed North Korea.

Clinton arrived in Beijing on Friday evening for talks on Saturday with her Chinese counterpart, Yang Jiechi.

Her trip to Seoul and Beijing comes amid escalating threats from North Korea. On Thursday, its military warned that it was prepared for "an all-out confrontation" with its neighbour on the Korean Peninsula.

The North Korean People's Army also threatened an open military conflict with the South in January, saying South Korean President Lee Myung Bak and his "puppet military war hawks" would force it "to take a strong military retaliatory step to wipe them out."

Clinton warned Pyongyang Tuesday against test-firing a missile after South Korea said the North had been preparing for weeks to test-fire a Taepodong-2 intercontinental ballistic missile.

The US military said that if technically perfected, the Taepodong- 2 could reach the US state of Alaska and carry a nuclear warhead.

The US diplomat also drew a sharp contrast between Stalinist North Korea and democratic South Korea. "The Republic of Korea's achievement of democracy and prosperity stands in stark contrast to the tyranny and poverty across the border to the North," she said ahead of a meeting with Lee.

Clinton said the most prominent issue for North Korea, however, is disabling its nuclear facilities and accepting a method of verification of its denuclearization.

Disagreements about verifying North Korea's progress in disabling its nuclear programme, such as through inspections, stalled nuclear talks during the administration of former US president George W Bush, who left office in January.

The former senator and first lady also announced the appointment by US President Barack Obama of his top negotiator with North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, a former US ambassador to South Korea, while she and Yu called for the resumption of six-nation talks aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.

Both countries are involved in the talks along with North Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

The two diplomats also agreed to strengthen their military alliance. The United States has 28,500 soldiers stationed in South Korea as a deterrent to North Korea.

South Korea fears the recent tensions with North Korea could escalate into a limited military altercation, possibly over the two countries' contested border in the Yellow Sea.

Relations between the Korean Peninsula neighbours have soured since Lee took office a year ago, scrapped the so-called Sunshine Policy of his liberal predecessors and adopted a tougher course toward Pyongyang, demanding progress in dismantling the North's nuclear weapons programme in exchange for aid.

Repeated requests by Seoul for dialogue with Pyongyang have been rejected. Instead, Pyongyang has threatened Seoul with annihilation several times over the past weeks and in late January scrapped bilateral reconciliation agreements and nullified an agreement over its sea border with the South. It accused Lee's government of pursuing a confrontational policy.

Clinton arrived Thursday in South Korea during an Asian tour, her first overseas trip after becoming secretary of state last month. The former senator and first lady first visited Japan and Indonesia, and her final stop is China. (dpa)