Seoul steps up diplomacy amid N Korea uncertainty, Abe's shrine visit

Seoul steps up diplomacy amid N Korea uncertainty, Abe's shrine visit

SEOUL - South Korea is ratcheting up diplomatic efforts with the US and China amid growing uncertainty surrounding North Korea following the execution of leader Kim Jong-un's uncle.

Seoul's Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se plans to travel to Washington next week for talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry and other ranking officials.

With Pyongyang's nuclear programme topping the agenda, the two top diplomats are also expected to trade views regarding the situation on the peninsula in the wake of the purge of Jang Song-thaek, former vice chairman of the National Defence Commission and once considered the communist state's second-in-command.

"My planned visit would serve our pursuit of strategic, preemptive diplomacy and help us size up the circumstances surrounding the peninsula and North Korea for the new year," Yun told reporters.

The trip comes shortly after Yun's one-hour phone conversation with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Dec. 31. They discussed the North Korea situation and agreed to continue strategic cooperation for "substantive progress" in its denuclearization.

Wang is forecast to come to Seoul this year, while the two countries are seeking to hold a vice-minister-level strategic dialogue as early as this month.

The two latest consultations marked the first top-level exchanges since the purging of Jang, whose death fueled concerns over the instability of Kim's 2-year-old regime and a possible provocation to cope with it.

In a fresh twist, the young, unpredictable leader launched a peace offensive in his New Year's address Wednesday. He called on the South to "come forward" to improve relations with the North, while vowing to do his part for the cause.

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