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(LEAD) N.K. deputy nuke envoy visits China: source

All Headlines 16:29 September 07, 2016

(ATTN: RECASTS lead; ADDS more details throughout)

SEOUL, Sept. 7 (Yonhap) -- A North Korean deputy nuclear negotiator has arrived in China, a source familiar with North Korean affairs said Wednesday, amid international condemnation over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs.

Choe Son-hui, the 52-year-old deputy director for North American affairs at North Korea's foreign ministry, arrived in Beijing on Tuesday with an interpreter, the source said without elaborating.

The purpose of her visit to China is not immediately known.

Her trip came as the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Tuesday (New York Time) adopted a statement strongly condemning North Korea's latest ballistic missile tests.

The UNSC slapped its toughest sanctions on Pyongyang in March for its fourth nuclear test in January and a long-range rocket launch in the following month. Pyongyang conducted nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and 2013.

The six-party talks involving the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia have been stalled since late 2008 when the North walked away from the negotiation table.

China, the host of the six-party talks and the main ally for North Korea, is under pressure to use its leverage to make Pyongyang give up its nuclear weapons program.

But ties between Pyongyang and Beijing have been frayed as North Korea pushed ahead with nuclear tests despite China's opposition.

Experts said that the North might have sent Choe to China to ease the impact of the tougher sanctions regime through talks with Beijing.

North Korea is believed to face economic hardship as the sanctions cut off the main source of hard currency.

In June, Choe attended a security forum in Beijing where she said that the six-party talks are "dead," dashing hopes that Pyongyang might change its course on its nuclear aspiration.
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