South Korea's Roh Has High Hopes for Nuclear Talks

South Korea's president said Thursday he believes negotiations between the United States, North Korea and China will help ease a nuclear standoff even though his country has been excluded from the talks.

"Many people seem disappointed and feel their pride hurt because we will not participate in the talks," President Roh Moo-hyun was quoted as saying in a statement from his office. "The most important thing is the talks' outcome."

For months, Roh has said South Korea would play "a leading role" in international efforts to find a peaceful solution to the crisis over North Korea's nuclear program.

On Wednesday, the United States said it would hold talks in Beijing as early as next week. Japanese media, citing unnamed sources, said they would start Wednesday.

North Korea had originally wanted one-on-one talks with the United States, but eventually said other countries could participate. However, it ruled out a role for South Korea.

The North says its dispute is with the United States alone. U.S. officials say the North's nuclear program poses a danger to the entire world, and they want other countries -- especially South Korea and Japan -- to play a role in resolving the crisis.

South Korea's main opposition Grand National Party said the country's exclusion from next week's talks was "unacceptable."

"This government becomes small every time it stands before North Korea," it said in a statement.

Opposition politicians have criticized the government of pampering North Korea by giving economic aid and other concessions for little in return.

The dispute flared in October when Washington said North Korea admitted running a secret nuclear weapons program. The United States and its allies stopped oil shipments to the North, which retaliated by withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and moving to restart its nuclear facilities.

China would not say what role it would play in the negotiations.

Any resolution would require "the political will and sincerity of the parties involved as well as the encouragement and support of the international community," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao.

China sent troops to fight alongside North Korea's army in the 1950-53 Korean War and is the isolated communist state's biggest source of food, fuel and other aid.

Russian Ambassador Teymuraz Ramishvili welcomed plans for the meetings, saying he supports "all forms of dialogue."

South Korean officials have said they want Russia's involvement in persuading Pyongyang to give up its nuclear ambitions.

Moscow was a close ally of North Korea during the Cold War, but the friendship faded after the Soviet Union collapsed. There has been a rapprochement of sorts, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il visiting Russia last year and Russian President Vladimir Putin visiting Pyongyang in 2000.