U.S. in consultations with China over N. Korean refugees: State Dept.

March 8, 2012 11:39 am 

WASHINGTON/ NEW YORK, March 8 — The United States government confirmed on Wednesday that it "talked about" the plight of North Korean defectors with China, which has emerged as a source of diplomatic tensions between Seoul and Beijing.

"We do, as part of our regular dialogue with Beijing, talk about refugee difficulties," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said at a press briefing.

The issue of North Koreans fleeing their hunger-stricken communist nation and holing- up in China is not new. But the South Korean government has averted its long-standing policy of staying relatively mute on the issue to place more focus on rescuing defectors. Seoul has become markedly more vocal in demanding China stop the forceful repatriation of North Korean defectors.

It was unusual for the U.S. government to publicly admit dialogue with China on the sensitive matter.

Around 30 North Koreans are reportedly in the custody of Chinese authorities and they face deportation to the North, where they are expected to face harsh punishment.

On working-level talks with the North in Beijing aimed at finalizing details of "nutritional assistance," Nuland said the two sides had a "relatively productive" first day and they are preparing for a second-day meeting.

North Korea announced last week it will freeze its uranium enrichment program and allow the return of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor it.

In return, Washington promised to provide 240,000 tons of food aid to North Korea.

South Korea's chief nuclear envoy Lim Sung-nam flew into New York to attend an academic forum in which his North Korean counterpart Ri Yong-ho will also take part.

The forum, hosted by the Maxwell School at Syracuse University, started its three-day session on Wednesday.

Lim said he has no plan yet to meet Ri. But he left the possibility open for an impromptu meeting.

"I expect there will be an occasion to exchange opinions between the South and the North as well as on recent situations if there is an opportunity," he told reporters. (PNA/Yonhap)

FPV/jnc

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