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U.S. team to discuss North Korea in Seoul, Tokyo, Beijing

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. government team will travel to Seoul, Tokyo and Beijing next week to discuss North Korea but has no plans to visit the poor, isolated state or meet its officials, the State Department said Tuesday.

Stephen Bosworth, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, as well as State Department official Sung Kim and National Security Council staffer Daniel Russell will visit Seoul from September 12 to 14, Tokyo September 14 to 15, and Beijing September 15 to 16.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, who announced the trip, suggested the United States was in no hurry to resume so-called six-party talks aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear programs.

“We will continue our consultations with key parties in this process but I would suggest, as we have in the past, that it’s North Korea that needs to do what it can to create a better environment for our progress,” Crowley said.

The talks, which last took place in 2008, involve the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.

Washington views the atomic capabilities of the North, which tested nuclear devices in 2006 and 2009, as a threat to its allies South Korea and Japan and a proliferation risk.

U.S.-North Korean relations have deteriorated since Obama took office, with his aides deeply unhappy about Pyongyang’s decision to conduct nuclear and missile tests last year as well as the March 26 sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan.

Forty-six South Korean sailors were killed in the incident, which the United States, South Korea and other nations blame squarely on North Korea. Pyongyang denies responsibility.

U.S. officials have not said precisely what North Korea must do for Washington to be willing to return to the table.

Among other things, they have called on Pyongyang to cease its “provocative behavior,” halt its belligerence toward its neighbors and take irreversible steps to fulfill its denuclearization commitments.

In 2005, North Korea agreed to abandon all its nuclear programs.

Editing by Peter Cooney