- The Washington Times - Monday, February 14, 2005

SEOUL — China has pledged to try to revive talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear programs, after the isolated, Stalinist state declared 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.

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

Mr. Li told Miss Rice by phone 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 U.S. 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 with Miss Rice today.

North Korea announced Thursday that it has built nuclear weapons to defend itself from the purported threat of a U.S. invasion, a claim that could not be independently verified. Washington denies it intends to attack.

North Korea also said it would stay away from 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 talks. Three rounds of negotiations have been held in Beijing with no breakthrough.

Yesterday, a North Korean district official in Pyongyang, the capital, said the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula would help the talks.

Han Song-nam, a deputy chairman for a district in Pyongyang of the country’s Communist Party, 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.

The United States has been South Korea’s key security ally since the 1950-1953 Korean War, and keeps thousands of troops based there and in neighboring Japan.

Mr. 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 U.S. forces stretched too thin to deal with such a case, Mr. Ban said: “We think that the United States has enough capabilities to deal with all these regional conflicts while they are concentrating their military forces in Iraq.”

North Korea did not say how many nuclear bombs it has, but Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said yesterday that his country suspected it had two or three.

Mr. Downer 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?’ ” Mr. Downer told Australia’s Nine Network television.

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