North Korea is not planning a second nuclear test and is willing to return to six-party talks under certain conditions but warned that it would take action if it feels pressured, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said today.
Chinese State Councillor Tang Jiaxuan was told during meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and other officials in Pyongyang last week that the North has no plans currently to carry out another test, said Liu Jianchao.
“But if it faces pressure, North Korea reserves the right to take further actions,” Liu said, citing Tang.
Despite the apparently conciliatory tone of the meeting, Liu said that Kim did not express regret for his regime’s October 9 nuclear test, as some South Korean media had reported.
“These reports are certainly not accurate,” Liu said. ”We haven’t heard any information that Kim Jong Il apologised for the test.”
Liu’s comments were the fullest public account China has given of the October 19 meeting that analysts and diplomats have called a critical opportunity for assessing North Korea’s intentions.
North Korean officials told the Chinese envoy that they were willing to return to international negotiations on their nuclear programme “but they want certain questions, including the matter of US financial sanctions against it, resolved first,” Liu said at a regular press briefing.
The US has sought to cut off the North’s access to international banking as punishment for alleged counterfeiting of US dollars and other illicit activity. Pyongyang has denied the charges and boycotted six-nation talks on its nuclear program until the US ends the crackdown.
A second test has been widely believed to be a possibility. Earlier this month, US media reported that Pyongyang may be preparing for another, citing suspicious activity at a suspected test site in the North’s north-east.
But today, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported that the US military had not detected signs of preparations for a second atomic test.
US military officials gave that intelligence assessment to their South Korean counterparts during annual defense talks in Washington last week, Yonhap said, citing unidentified defense officials.
Officials at the Defence Ministry were not immediately available for comment.
The developments demonstrate the uncertainty that has surrounded the nuclear stand-off since the North’s test, which prompted the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against Pyongyang.
Also today, Ban Ki-moon, the next United Nations secretary-general and South Korea’s foreign minister said Seoul backs the sanctions.
Ban said he plans to use his new position as UN chief, which he’ll assume at the beginning of next year, to “seek an active role for the peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue.”
So far, South Korea hasn’t outlined any specific action it plans to take in accord with the resolution, which calls for countries to take steps to prevent Pyongyang from continuing its weapons trade.
The US has urged the South to join an anti-proliferation initiative, and to take steps for more accountability in joint economic projects with the North.
Ban said Seoul was still “reviewing our policies to bring them closer in line” with the UN resolution.
As part of the rush of diplomatic exchanges since the nuclear test, Ban was scheduled to arrive in Beijing on Friday to discuss the North Korean nuclear issue and other topics with Hu, Tang and his Chinese counterpart, Li Zhaoxing.
Rep. Choi Sung of South Korea’s ruling Uri Party said he met with a “key North Korean official” in Beijing on Sunday. He said the official is well-versed in China-North Korea relations and inter-Korean ties, but declined to identify him further.
After the meeting, Choi suggested the US present the communist state with evidence of its alleged illicit financial activities so the North can punish those responsible.
He said the North Korean official said his country could then return to the talks “even if the issue is not completely resolved.”
However, Japanese lawmaker Ichiro Aisawa, who visited Beijing on yesterday to discuss the nuclear test with Chinese leaders, said he was told by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei that China was “not optimistic about the resumption of the six-party talks or that North Korea will abandon its nuclear program,” according to Kyodo news agency and public broadcaster NHK.
Wu, who is Beijing’s top nuclear envoy, accompanied Chinese officials on a special mission to Pyongyang last week to discuss the nuclear dispute.
Liu told reporters that “all countries involved in the six-party talks believe that the talks should be resumed but of course the parties do not all agree on how.”
“Consultations are required to find a way acceptable to all,” he said.