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SCENARIOS - Troubled paths for North Korea nuclear diplomacy
SEOUL (Reuters) - A senior diplomat from China, the biggest benefactor for destitute North Korea, said on Friday that Beijing wanted long-stalled international talks on ending Pyongyang's atomic ambitions to restart by July.
North Korea's top nuclear envoy is trying to enter the United States in the next few days for a visit that could add new life to disarmament-for-aid talks which have been on hold for more than a year.
The following are a few scenarios of what may occur in nuclear negotiations with the reclusive North.
DIPLOMACY HEADS BACK ON TRACK
* North Korean leader Kim Jong-il may soon go to Beijing, the closest his isolated state has for a major ally, where he will likely try to win economic sweeteners for returning to the table.
* China, the host of the talks that include the two Koreas, Japan, Russia and the United States, then announces a date for resuming discussions that will probably come in next few months.
* Talks may soon stall if North Korea does not resume taking apart its plutonium-producing Yongbyon nuclear arms plant and allowing back in international inspectors.
STRENGTH THROUGH STATUS QUO
* The three countries which favour putting pressure on North Korea -- the United States, Japan and South Korea -- can keep the upper hand on Pyongyang by pushing for enforcement of existing U.N. sanctions while their own unilateral measures have added more trouble for the North's already wobbly economy.
* The United States may not allow North Korean nuclear envoy Kim Kye-gwan to meet its officials unless he comes with concessions.
* Talks stall, North Korea stews, and the Obama administration can spend more time on its front-burner issues, including Iraq and Afghanistan abroad and health care at home.
* North Korea hates being ignored and may try to rattle the region with military grandstanding.
* A problem for Pyongyang is that its more recent small-scale skirmishes with the South and firing of missiles are winning less attention from the outside world.
* The North may be forced to take more drastic moves to be noticed and, crucially, bolster support for leader Kim among his military. This would increase the chances of a third North Korean nuclear test.
* That in turn would worry investors in North Asia, responsible for one-sixth of the global economy, dampening sentiment and causing brief drops in the South Korean won and the Seoul bourse. But market players have said it would take the threat of a major military confrontation to cause lasting harm.
THE ELEVATOR RIDE
* North Korea may roll back part of the threat it poses to the region in the hopes of winning aid to prop up its economy. That would also finance an ambitious project at home to build a "great and prosperous nation" by 2012 -- the 100th anniversary of the birth of state founder Kim Il-sung.
* The North, as it has often done, may later step away from its disarmament pledges and make threats that shake security.
* Most analysts do not expect Kim to ever give up nuclear arms, seen at home as worth the immense sacrifice because they have thwarted a U.S. invasion and are the most powerful symbol of Kim's military-first rule.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz, editing by Jonathan Thatcher and Ron Popeski)
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