US and China in push to resume nuclear talks

US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and China’s foreign minister said today their governments had agreed to try to resume stalled talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear programme and called on the communist nation to show restraint.

US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice and China’s foreign minister said today their governments had agreed to try to resume stalled talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear programme and called on the communist nation to show restraint.

Rice and her Chinese counterpart Li Zhaoxing also said they agreed on enforcing United Nations sanctions imposed after the North’s October 9 nuclear test, but gave no indication they had agreed on tougher measures.

“We hope all relevant parties will maintain coolheadedness, adopt a responsible approach and adhere to peaceful dialogue as the main approach,” Li said at a joint appearance before reporters.

Rice said they also discussed the importance of enforcing UN sanctions on the North to prevent “trade in dangerous illicit materials”.

Rice flew to Beijing after visiting Tokyo and Seoul on a regional tour to lobby for support in enforcing UN sanctions imposed on the North last week. She said she and Li discussed the importance of enforcing the sanctions to prevent ``trade in illegal materials, dangerous materials''.

“We also talked about the importance of leaving open a path to negotiations through the six-party talks,” Rice said. The talks, which include the US, the two Koreas, host China, Japan and Russia, have been stalled since late 2005.

Rice’s conciliatory tone appeared to be aimed at keeping Beijing’s co-operation, which is key to enforcing any sanctions.

Hopes were high that Beijing might discourage Pyongyang from conducting a new test after a Chinese envoy yesterday gave North Korean leader Kim Jong Il a personal message from Chinese president Hu Jintao.

Rice and Li did not mention that visit and Beijing has not released details of Hu’s message or Kim’s response.

Today a South Korean newspaper reported that Kim told the Chinese envoy, Tang Jiaxuan, the North would return to nuclear talks if Washington dropped financial sanctions.

“If the US makes a concession to some degree, we will also make a concession to some degree, whether it be bilateral talks or six-party talks,” Kim was quoted as saying by the Chosun Ilbo, which cited diplomatic sources in China.

The North has boycotted the talks since the US imposed sanctions last year on North Korean companies accused of counterfeiting American currency and money laundering and on a bank in the Chinese territory of Macau that dealt with them.

Kim also apologised for the nuclear test to the Chinese envoy, the newspaper reported.

Tang’s delegation included Beijing’s nuclear envoy Wu Dawei and vice foreign minister Dai Bingguo, according to Liu.

Employees of Chinese banks said today they had suspended financial transactions to North Korea under orders from Beijing. China is the North’s main trading partner and the step could be a serious blow to its frail economy.

In Seoul, Rice said it was up to each country to decide how to comply with the UN sanctions approved after the October 9 test. China and South Korea have baulked at inspecting cargo on ships sailing to and from the North. Beijing said that could unnecessarily provoke Pyongyang.

The North says it needs nuclear weapons to counter US aggression. The US has repeatedly said it does not intend to attack the North.

The two Koreas are technically at war, since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a ceasefire.

The North’s test challenges US-South Korean ties, long strained by differences about how to deal with Pyongyang. The US wants a tougher line, while Seoul is reluctant to inflame tensions.

Rice has reassured Seoul that the US will defend the country if the North attacks. She brought a similar message to Japan, her first stop on a four-day trip devoted mostly to talks on the nuclear crisis.

Rice has also reaffirmed US president George Bush’s pledge, made after the North’s underground test blast, “that the US has the will and the capability to meet the full range – and I underscore the full range – of its deterrent and security commitments to Japan”.

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