China supports US-SKorean proposal to bring NKorea back to nuclear talks

Friday, September 29th 2006, 6:23 am
By: News On 6

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ China on Friday backed a U.S.-South Korean proposal aimed at luring North Korea back to long-stalled international talks on its nuclear program.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei met with top South Korean officials in Seoul as part of renewed efforts to restart the six-party nuclear talks after nearly a year of deadlock. The negotiations involving China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the United States last convened in November.

Wu's meetings focused on a joint strategy that South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun and President Bush agreed to pursue at a summit earlier this month.

``I support it,'' Wu, who is Beijing's main nuclear envoy, said Friday after his meetings.

China's support of the plan could be crucial in getting Pyongyang back to the negotiating table, as it is the North's main benefactor and communist ally.

Roh said Thursday that the proposal was made to North Korea, but it hasn't given any response so far. Roh declined to give any details of what was contained in the proposal.

Seoul's nuclear envoy, Chun Yung-woo, told reporters he briefed the Chinese diplomat on the outcome of a recent trip to Washington but gave no further details.

Chun returned Thursday from an extended trip to the United States, where he tried with his U.S. counterpart, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, to flesh out a joint strategy aimed at luring North Korea back to the negotiating table.

North Korea has refused to return to the talks in anger over U.S. efforts to cut off its access to the international banking system because of the communist regime's alleged counterfeiting of U.S. dollars and money laundering.

The need to get North Korea back to the negotiating table has taken on added urgency since it test-fired a series of missiles in July. Reports have also suggested it might conduct a nuclear test to further escalate tension.

The North boasts it has nuclear bombs, but the claim has not been independently verified. Many experts believe the North has enough radioactive material to build at least a half-dozen or more nuclear weapons.

The U.S. has rebuffed the North's long-standing demand for direct talks, but has recently shown signs of softening that stance. The U.S. ambassador to South Korea, Alexander Vershbow, said this week that Washington is open to ``new approaches,'' and bilateral talks are possible only if the North promises to return to the six-party negotiations.

North Korea remains adamant in its demand for a lifting of the U.S. financial restrictions. One of the country's vice foreign ministers, Choe Su Hon, told the U.N. General Assembly this week that it is impossible to resume the nuclear talks while the U.S. sanctions continue.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also said this week that she would consider a trip to Asia to see if ``one last push'' can be made to get North Korea back to the negotiations.