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China to press N. Korea on nuclear standoff

US seeks to resume six-country talks

SEOUL -- China has pledged to try to revive talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear programs after the isolated, Stalinist state's declaration that it has atomic weapons and is boycotting disarmament negotiations.

The United States and other countries involved in the six-party talks have urged China to use its influence over North Korea. Beijing is Pyongyang's last major ally and a key supplier of food and energy to the impoverished dictatorship.

Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing of China told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Beijing firmly supports a nuclear-free Korean peninsula, the Chinese government said yesterday.

Li told Rice by telephone Saturday night that "China will stay in touch with all relevant parties . . . so that the six-party talks could be resumed as soon as possible," the Foreign Ministry said. The discussions also involve South Korea, Russia, and Japan.

South Korea's foreign minister also said he had discussed with US officials "views that China should strengthen efforts to persuade the North," South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported. Ban Ki Moon, in Washington on a previously scheduled trip, was to meet Rice today.

North Korea announced Thursday that it has built nuclear weapons to defend itself from the alleged threat of a US invasion, dramatically raising tensions in the two-year nuclear standoff. Washington denies that it intends to attack. North Korea's contention could not be independently verified.

North Korea also said it would not participate in the six-country negotiations. A North Korean diplomat reportedly has requested direct talks with Washington as a way out of the impasse.

But the White House rejects such a move and insists that the North join the multilateral talks. Three rounds of negotiations have been held in Beijing with no breakthrough.

A North Korean district official in Pyongyang said the withdrawal of US troops from the Korean peninsula would help six-party talks. Han Song Nam, a deputy chairman of the Communist Party for a district in Pyongyang, said it "would be a practical measure in the withdrawal of the United States' hostile policy," according to Yonhap, which monitored North Korea's Radio Pyongyang.

Washington has been South Korea's key security ally since the Korean War of 1950-53, and keeps thousands of troops based there and in neighboring Japan.

Ban, in an interview aired yesterday on CNN's "Late Edition," said he was confident in Washington's ability to react to any potential emergency on the Korean peninsula. Asked whether he was concerned that fighting in Iraq might leave US forces stretched too thin to deal with such a case, Ban said: "We think that the United States has enough capabilities to deal with all these regional conflicts."

North Korea did not say how many nuclear bombs it has, but Foreign Minister Alexander Downer of Australia said yesterday that his country suspects Pyongyang has two or three. He also warned that North Korea's declaration could spur nuclear proliferation in Asia.

"There will be some people in South Korea, some people in Japan who will say, 'Well, if North Korea has nuclear weapons and can threaten us, why shouldn't we have nuclear weapons as well?' " Downer told Australia's Nine Network television.

Senator Joseph R. Biden of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, expressed similar concerns, saying North Korea's move could push Japan to "go nuclear."

"And then China's got a real problem," Biden said on the television program "Fox News Sunday." Biden added that, in dealing with Pyongyang, Washington's "partners" in the North Korea situation -- China, South Korea, and Japan -- "have got to be ready to use sticks, and we have to be willing to use a few more carrots."

Ban said the South had no plans to halt aid to the North, noting it provides its longtime rival with fertilizer and rice because of "humanitarian concerns." He also dismissed a report in an American newspaper that Vice President Dick Cheney asked Seoul to stop providing fertilizer.

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