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S. Korea raises pitch

Beijing/Seoul, Jan. 16 (Reuters): South Korea said today it was prepared for a worst-case scenario that included war on the peninsula if diplomacy failed to resolve the crisis over the north’s suspected nuclear weapons ambitions.

At the same time, the top US envoy for Asia said in Beijing the whole international community agreed that the Korean peninsula must be free of nuclear weapons but held out little hope of a speedy outcome.

“It’s going to be a slow process to make sure we achieve this in the right way,” US assistant secretary of state James Kelly said after talks with Chinese leaders. Kelly spoke hours after Pyongyang scornfully dismissed as “pie in the sky” US offers of possible food and energy aid if the impoverished north would halt its nuclear programme. In Seoul, South Korean defence minister Lee Jun told parliament that war would be unavoidable if diplomacy failed.

“If the North Korean nuclear problem cannot be solved peacefully and America attacks North Korea, war on the Korean peninsula will be unavoidable,” Lee said. “Our army is prepared for the worst-case scenario.”

Despite Pyongyang’s hard-line public declarations, however, Japan’s foreign minister and South Korea’s President-elect said they saw signs it wanted talks to end the crisis.

Kelly, flitting between Asian capitals to drum up support for Washington’s stance on North Korea, said he had held “very good” talks with officials from China. “We’re going to have to communicate with other people, including North Korea, very, very clearly, so we all agree on the end results,” he said.

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