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U.S. views Xi's upcoming trip to Seoul as 'milestone'

All Headlines 07:38 June 19, 2014

By Lee Chi-dong

WASHINGTON, June 18 (Yonhap) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping's upcoming visit to South Korea is of great significance in that it will help solidify regional partnerships in trying to resolve the North Korean problem, a senior U.S. official said Wednesday.

"This is an extraordinary milestone, and it should be helpful in promoting needed cooperation on North Korea," Daniel Russel, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said at a forum in Washington.

Xi plans to travel to Seoul early next month, but his exact schedule has not been announced.

Russel said that Seoul will host the Chinese leader "in just a couple of weeks."

The career diplomat recalled what he called a "small role" in helping to facilitate initial contacts between Seoul and Beijing in the early 1990s when he served at the United Nations.

The Obama administration fully supports Seoul's push to build strong ties with its neighbors, said Russel.

He voiced concern about drawn-out standoffs between Seoul and Tokyo, Washington's key regional allies, despite signs of improved relations between Seoul and Beijing.

South Korea and Japan are at the loggerheads over the interpretation of their shared history, especially Japan's colonization of Korea from 1910-1945.

Russel emphasized the need for mutual efforts to mend ties.

"There is hard work ahead for both sides. This cannot be done by one party alone. And the hard work is made more difficult by politicization and by the erosion of trust," he said, addressing the forum on the Seoul-Washington alliance, which was organized by the East Asia Foundation.

On North Korea, he made it clear that Washington's goal remains limiting the communist nation's choice by raising the cost of its continued development of nuclear weapons and other provocative acts.

"North Korea can never achieve security and prosperity while it pursues nuclear weapons," he stressed.

He pointed out South Korea and the U.S. are working together to improve readiness and interoperability to counter the North's growing military threats.

"This includes shared investment in ballistic missile defense, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities," Russel said.

He did not elaborate, but his remarks came at a rather sensitive time when South Koreans suspect the U.S. is pressing Seoul to join its regional missile defense system.

South Korea's military insists that it is more interested in developing the nation's own missile defense system, which would be "interoperable" with the U.S.-led network, not "integrated" into it.

lcd@yna.co.kr

leechidong@gmail.com
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