SEOUL, South Korea – A top U.S. envoy will meet with senior South Korean (search) officials next week to prepare for a fresh round of six-nation talks on North Korea's (search) nuclear weapons program, the foreign ministry said.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly (search) will meet officials from South Korea's presidential office and the foreign ministry during his three-day visit starting next Wednesday, the ministry said in a statement.
Kelly, who led the American delegation during the first round of multination talks on the nuclear crisis, is expected to visit Tokyo and Beijing before arriving in Seoul.
Earlier this week, South Korea and China expressed optimism that more talks would be held before the end of the year.
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo vowed Friday to peacefully resolve the standoff over North Korea's nuclear ambitions and arrange the new talks, but gave no word on when more negotiations might be held.
Dai, who was in Tokyo to discuss the nuclear dispute, told Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi that China was working to schedule a meeting soon, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said on condition of anonymity.
Kawaguchi pushed China to include North Korea's past practice of abducting Japanese nationals on the agenda of upcoming talks. The ministry spokesman would not comment on Dai's response.
China hosted the first round of talks -- which also involved the United States, the two Koreas, Japan and Russia -- in Beijing in August. That meeting ended without an agreement on when to resume talks.
China, North Korea's leading ally, has been trying to jump-start the second round. Last month, it helped persuade Pyongyang to agree "in principle" to return to the negotiating table.
The nuclear dispute began a year ago when U.S. officials said North Korea admitted running a secret nuclear program in violation of international agreements.
The communist North is believed to already have built one or two atomic bombs and recently said it extracted plutonium from 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods to build more.
Separately, North Korea on Friday berated South Korea for planning to deploy U.S.-made missiles near the border, calling them part of a U.S. plot to trigger a "nuclear holocaust" on the peninsula.
Early this month, South Korea said it would start deploying the Army Tactical Missile System Block 1A missiles next month near the border with the North. The missile, which has a range of 186 miles, can reach Pyongyang and targets further north, including North Korea's main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, where the country says it is using spent nuclear fuel rods to make atomic bombs.
The deployment would exacerbate military tensions on the Korean Peninsula, said KCNA, Pyongyang's official news agency.
North Korea, which often issues such belligerent statements, has deployed missiles capable of covering all South Korea and parts of Japan. It alarmed the region in 1998 by firing a new long-range missile that flew over Japan and landed in the Pacific.
The North also urged South Koreans to resist Washington's request for troops to bolster U.S.-led coalition forces in Iraq.
Officials said Friday that South Korea has ordered its troops in southern Iraq to suspend their operations outside coalition bases, following Wednesday's deadly suicide truck bombing in Nasiriyah.
Last month, South Korea agreed to send additional troops to help U.S. forces rebuild the war-torn Arab nation but said Thursday it will not send more than 3,000.
The Koreas were divided in 1945. Since the 1950-53 Korean War, their border remains sealed and heavily armed.