By Jeremy Laurence
SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea wants to hold a second round of dialogue with the United States, possibly next month, as part of renewed efforts to restart talks on disabling the North's nuclear weapons program, a South Korean official said on Thursday.
In a sign that the long-stalled regional talks are now firmly back in the picture, foreign ministry spokesman Cho Byung-jae told reporters in Seoul that the two Koreas were closing in on agreement to reconvene the forum.
As part of the process to restart six-party talks involving the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia, officials expect shuttle diplomacy to pick up.
The South's nuclear envoy met his Chinese counterpart in Beijing on Thursday and urged him to persuade the North to halt its nuclear activities to allow for the resumption of the talks, the South's Yonhap news agency reported.
Cho said the North's nuclear envoy Ri Yong-ho had also proposed another U.S.-North Korea meeting.
Yonhap quoted an unnamed South Korean official as saying that a meeting could take place in a third country, with the cities of Singapore, Berlin and Geneva among the possible choices.
"North Korea is pushing to hold the next round of bilateral talks with the U.S. in Pyongyang, but Washington is strongly against it," said the senior South Korean official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
"Currently, the two sides are discussing the possibility of meeting in a third country."
In July, U.S. envoy Stephen Bosworth held two days of talks with veteran North Korean nuclear negotiator Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan in New York, their first such interaction since 2009.
Most experts say the mercurial North is unlikely to ever give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons, but the six-party process is useful as it serves to contain the North's nuclear program and hinders proliferation.
On Wednesday, the two Koreas' nuclear envoys met for the second time in two months in Beijing, amid a thaw in tensions on the divided peninsula.
Both sides said the talks were productive and useful, but did not produce any breakthroughs to allow for a restart of the regional nuclear talks, which the North walked out of more than two years ago.
Seoul and Washington insist that Pyongyang must first halt its nuclear activities, including its uranium enrichment program, and allow the return of international nuclear inspectors before talks can restart.
"Our government believes the two sides were able to expand the scope of mutual understanding of each other's overall position on the nuclear issue, and has come to expect that further dialogue will lead us to reach a point of agreement," Cho said.
Analysts expect it will take a few more months of diplomacy before an agreement can be reached on restarting the regional talks which offer the impoverished North economic and energy aid in return for disabling its nuclear weapons program.
(Editing by Daniel Magnowski and Sanjeev Miglani)
The Republican presidential candidates debate again on Thursday night in Florida. And Mitt Romney is eager to find a way to knock Rick Perry off his perch as the new GOP leader. Romney's challenge: convincing Republican voters that backing Perry now will lead to defeat next November.
President Obama’s $787 billion Stimulus left America sputtering, like a Chevy Volt without its extension cord. Having learned nothing from this failure, Obama recently unveiled Stimulus Jr. — the American Jobs Act. Costing $447 billion, Stimulus Jr. boasts roughly half of its predecessor’s audacity.
Speaking Thursday night at a Democratic National Committee event at a private residence in Washington, D.C., Obama told supporters that Stimulus Jr. would “add as many as 1.9 million jobs.” That equals at least $235,263 each — quadruple the $57,491 cost of an average private-sector position. Even worse, major tax hikes fuel Stimulus Jr. Too bad Obama ignores House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan’s loophole-closing, tax-rate-slashing vision.
Keep reading this post . . .
NEW YORK â Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas and a number of faith-based immigration activists launched an initiative to pass the DREAM Act Thursday in New York.
Speaking at Judson Memorial Church in New York City, Vargas and other activists including Chung-Wha Hong of the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC), promoted the âNew York State Congregations in Solidarity with DREAMers.â The initiative, which is part of the national DREAM Sabbath initiative led by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), aims to spur on the passage of the DREAM Act.
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker kept his distance Thursday from an investigation into one of his top agency officials, staying silent despite calls from his opponents to say what he knows about why FBI agents raided her home a day earlier.
Agents raided the home of Cynthia Archer, who held a top spot in Walker's office when he served as Milwaukee County executive and followed Walker to work in state government after last November's election.
The raid comes amid an ongoing secret Milwaukee County investigation that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, citing unnamed people familiar with the case, said focuses on whether county staffers in Walker's office did political work on the taxpayer dime.
This week's action is a reminder of long-simmering questions surrounding work by Walker's county staffers, one of whom admitted last year to anonymously posting pro-Walker comments on websites while on county time. It also raises questions about how deep the investigation will go and what implications it could have for the rising first-term Republican star.
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm declined Thursday to comment on the case. The Journal Sentinel reported that the secret proceeding allows witnesses to be subpoenaed and compelled to testify under oath, while forbidding them from talking publicly about the case.
Archer told The Associated Press on Thursday she never has done anything inappropriate and that Walker never asked her to do anything inappropriate. She also said she never was subpoenaed and nor told she was involved in the investigation.
Archer, 52, who is on paid sick leave from a her job as a legislative liaison with the Department of Children and Family Services, said she was woken early Wednesday by FBI agents knocking on the door of her Madison home. She said she didn't remember seeing a warrant and didn't ask them to produce one.
"They wouldn't need a warrant. If they need anything I'll give it to them," said Archer, adding she had no plans to hire an attorney because she had done nothing wrong.
Walker was out of state Thursday campaigning for Republicans in Kentucky and spokesman Cullen Werwie said his office would have no comment on the raid or investigation. Former U.S. Attorney Steven Biskupic, who Walker's campaign hired after receiving a subpoena for campaign emails shortly after last year's election, did not return a message seeking comment.
Democratic legislative leaders reacted to the raid Thursday by introducing a bill to repeal changes that allowed the governor to replace civil service positions in state agencies with political appointees. The changes were just one of many Walker-backed initiatives the Republican-led Legislature passed at breakneck speed after Walker took office in January.
Archer's current job is one of those formerly civil service positions.
Democratic Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said the bill introduced Thursday would ensure political cronies aren't working for Walker and future governors.
Wisconsin Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate called news of the raid disturbing, and urged Walker to explain any role he may have in the investigation.
Democratic state Sen. Chris Larson, who served 2 1/2 years on the Milwaukee County Board when Walker was county executive, said he's not surprised the governor is trying to distance himself.
"Knowing Walker, having worked with him at the county, he's never been one to admit when he does something wrong," Larson said. "It would be pretty earth-shattering if he did it this time."
The Journal Sentinel reported that people familiar with the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity said the investigation focuses on the activities of Archer and Tom Nardelli, Walker's former county chief of staff. Both worked three years in Walker's county executive office and both followed him to Madison after the November election.
Nardelli quit his state job in July and did not return messages seeking comment Thursday. Archer served as deputy Department of Administration Secretary until she quit on Aug. 19 and started the Children and Family Services job on Aug. 20 before going on leave.
Walker previously has said he has not been contacted in person by prosecutors but that his campaign had been asked for emails and information related to a staffer in his county office, Darlene Wink, who posted pro-Walker messages on websites on work time. Wink resigned in May 2010 after admitting to posting the anonymous comments on websites and blogs.
Her attorney, Chris Wiesmueller, acknowledged Wink posted the comments, but said Thursday he had no idea whether she was connected to the raid on Archer's house.
"I'm really in the dark in how we get from Darlene to Cynthia Archer," Wiesmueller said.
Authorities several months ago seized work computers used by both Wink and Tim Russell, a former Walker campaign staffer who was working as Milwaukee County housing director. Unlike Archer, neither Wink nor Russell went to work for the state after Walker was elected governor.
Scrutiny of Walker's campaign operations have resulted in one conviction.
William Gardner, president and chief executive officer of Wisconsin & Southern Railroad Co., was sentenced to two years' probation in July after being found guilty of two felonies related to exceeding state campaign donation limits and laundering campaign donations to Walker and other Wisconsin politicians.
Walker's campaign returned the $43,800 in donations Gardner had given him.
Ramde reported from Milwaukee. Associated Press writer Todd Richmond also contributed to this report.
Here’s a roundup of this morning’s must-read budget and economic stories:
The Wall Street Journal reports the federal government made $19 billion in improper unemployment benefit payments over the last three years.
House Speaker John Boehner gave a speech Thursday in which he urged the debt super-committee to reform the tax code, but not increase the overall tax burden. Politico, Roll Call, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post have the details.
According to The Wall Street Journal, President Obama believes his jobs package could cut the unemployment rate by one percentage point. USA Today reports the President also said the plan could create up to 1.9 million jobs.
SAN FRANCISCO -- A day after evacuating a commercial airplane via an emergency chute, an uninjured and unruffled U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Thursday discussed with law students her distaste for the death penalty among other weighty legal issues.
Ginsburg spoke briefly Thursday during an appearance at a San Francisco law school about her ordeal a day earlier when her original flight west was forced to undergo an emergency evacuation in Washington D.C. after her flight was grounded because of engine problems.
The 78-year-old justice, who has battled cancer, was among the 178 passengers ordered to make the emergency exit when smoke appeared out of one of the plane's engines.
"I had not planned that as part of my journey," she said.
The court's oldest justice spent most of the night at the University of California, San Francisco's Hastings School of Law discussing her gender equality cases when she was a lawyer, as well as important cases and legal issues that came before her on the high court.
With prompting from Hastings professor Joan Williams, Ginsburg said she found the death penalty "the hardest part of the job."
Ginsburg said, if given her druthers, she would "go back to the day to when the Supreme Court said the death penalty can't be applied with an even hand."
Nonetheless, she said she stays engaged with death penalty cases – rather than automatically voting against the death penalty as her former colleague Justice John Paul Stevens did – so she can "a voice in what's going on."
Ginsburg was appointed to the federal appeals court in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter and the Supreme Court by President Bill Clinton in 1993.
She said that even though the court often divides 5-4 on high-profile legal questions before it, she and her colleagues enjoy a collegial relationship. Ginsburg said she even travels the world with her philosophical opposite, Justice Antonin Scalia.
"Scalia is my biggest buddy at the opera," she said.
By Kay Henderson
DES MOINES (Reuters) - Presidential candidate Rick Perry said Republican rival Mitt Romney would not provide a stark enough contrast with President Barack Obama in the 2012 election because of his record on health care policy.
"Government-mandated, government-run health care - It is part of what he put in place as the governor of Massachusetts," Perry said on Thursday during a speech in the early caucus state of Iowa.
"I think it's very important that we put someone as our nominee that does not blur the lines between President Obama and the Republican Party," Perry said.
As Massachusetts governor, Romney signed a law requiring Massachusetts residents to get health insurance or pay a penalty. Perry, citing a Beacon Hill Institute study, said the state lost thousands of jobs because of the mandate.
"If it cost Massachusetts 18,000 jobs, think about what ObamaCare is going to do to this country," Perry said. "RomneyCare has driven private insurance costs up by $4.3 billion in Massachusetts."
Iowa holds the first U.S. election contest on February 6 and a victory there can give a Republican candidate important momentum in the race to choose a nominee to face Obama in November next year.
Perry, the front-runner among Republicans seeking a chance to unseat Obama, touts his own record as governor of Texas as the "blueprint" for turning the economy around.
Romney has suggested the Texas economy was thriving for a variety of reasons other than Perry's stewardship as governor. Perry brought that up during his speech in Jefferson, Iowa.
"Governor Romney the other night, he said that about, you know, he said, well, it's pretty easy to be governor when you get four aces in your hand and you think you're good at poker," Perry said.
"You know, there's some folks back in Texas that were a little offended by that. We worked hard in Texas. We put good, hard, practical principles into play."
Perry contrasted his own background with that of Romney, the son of a former Michigan governor, George Romney, who earned his wealth in the car industry.
"As the son of tenant farmers, I can promise you I wasn't born with four aces in my hand," Perry said near the beginning of his speech, and the crowd laughed as many recognized the phrase from Monday's debate.
"But like many of you the American dream was available to us because this country that we live in is not a class society. This country is based on hard-work and vision and anyone who does that can achieve anything that they desire."
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama made the case for his jobs plan on Thursday to a group of big donors, including the importance of higher taxes to pay for it.
"We can pay for it in a way that is responsible and that has everybody sharing in the burden," Obama told guests attending a $35,800-per-couple Democratic fundraiser.
In an effort to jump-start the stalled economy and cut the 9.1 percent unemployment rate, Obama made his case to Congress a week ago for a $447 billion dollar plan to generate jobs.
The speech was crucial to Obama, whose hopes of re-election next year are largely tied to the state of the economy.
In the face of strong Republican opposition to more spending and any tax increases, Obama has been taking his case to voters in the electoral swing states of Ohio, Virginia and North Carolina.
"We are going to run this like a campaign in the sense that we've got to take it to the American people," Obama said.
Thirty guests attended the fundraiser at the penthouse home of a Washington businessman, hosted by the African American Leadership Council.
The money went to Obama's 2012 re-election campaign and the Democratic National Committee.
A DNC spokeswoman declined to say how much Obama would raise at the dinner and at a second event later on Thursday.
The Democratic president acknowledged the difficult times ahead. "It is always hard at a time when our politics are divided and at a time when the economy is struggling," he said.
But he joked to guests that they could look to his opponents if they needed to be energized for the campaign.
"If you need some inspiration, go watch the Republican presidential debate," he said.
Democratic officials have been working to paint the field of Republican candidates as extremists whose views are outside the mainstream.
(Editing by Peter Cooney)