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SEOUL — Sen. Bill Frist wasn’t empty-handed when he visited U.S. soldiers Wednesday along the Demilitarized Zone: the Republican from Tennessee packed 1,500 country music CDs for troops.

The CDs were donated by music executives Frist solicited in Nashville, said Bob Stevenson, Frist’s spokesman. Frist and eight other senators — believed to be one of the largest delegations to make an Asia swing through Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China — visited U.S. soldiers and also met South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun.

“Clearly, the highlight for the members was the opportunity to meet with the troops and express their gratitude and support of the work they do every day,” Stevenson said.

In addition to Frist, the Senate majority leader, the delegation includes Sens. Conrad Burns, R-Mont.; Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I.; Susan Collins, R-Maine; Mark Dayton, D-Minn.; Bill Nelson, D-Fla.; Ben Nelson, D-Neb.; and Don Nickles, R-Okla.

The senators arrived in South Korea from Japan on Wednesday. They also met with Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun and U.S. Ambassador Thomas Hubbard.

The senators also visited with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and members of the Diet, Stevenson said.

The visit came as North Korea agreeed to talks with the United States and China, scheduled to start this week in Beijing. Given Pyongyang’s recent display of nuclear ambitions, Frist said, talk about North Korea “has tended to dominate much of the discussion.”

South Korea has been excluded from the scheduled talks, although U.S. officials have been pushing for Japan and Russia to be included.

The senators will visit Taipei, Taiwan, then China before returning to the United States, Stevenson said. Other discussions, he said, have focused on health threats involving the Pacific region, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome, and the war on terrorism, including the Iraq war.

“This gives us an opportunity also to discuss our efforts globally and to thank our allies in the region for their cooperation and to discuss issues such as the reconstruction of Iraq,” Stevenson said.

The visit “underscores the fact that we recognize while much of the world is focused on the Middle East,” Stevenson said, “we are very much focused on what is occurring here.”


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