SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) - China’s top diplomat said his country wants to restart stalled international negotiations on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament and hinted that Beijing would welcome two-way talks between Pyongyang and Washington, a report said Friday.
Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said Beijing will work to continue the six-nation disarmament talks that North Korea announced it would boycott after the U.N. Security Council condemned its recent rocket launch, according to an interview in Japan’s Nihon Keizai newspaper. North Korea says it launched a satellite but others have said it was actually testing ballistic missile technology.
China _ which is North Korea’s only major ally but backed the U.N. rebuke _ “hopes for the development of and improvement in relations between the United States and North Korea,” Yang said. He said either bilateral or multilateral talks involving the two sides would “mutually promote” relations.
Japan’s Kyodo News agency reported that the U.S. said it will not pursue direct talks with North Korea at the expense of the six-party talks.
Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg made the comment Thursday to Seiji Maehara, a top official in Japan’s main opposition Democratic Party, Kyodo reported from Washington.
Steinberg also told Maehara that the U.S. will call for talks with China, Japan, Russia and South Korea by the end of this month on how to deal with North Korea, it said.
Separately, Russia’s foreign minister plans to visit Pyongyang around April 24 to try to persuade North Korea to return to the six-party talks, South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported Friday.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is likely to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and deliver a letter from Russian President Dmitri Medvedev, it said, citing unidentified Russian officials.
North Korea, which claims the right to develop a space program, reacted furiously after the Security Council unanimously condemned its April 5 rocket launch as a violation of previous resolutions barring it from ballistic missile-related activity.
It vowed to boycott the disarmament talks and restart its nuclear program, and ordered U.N. and U.S. nuclear monitors to leave.
Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency left its main nuclear site in Yongbyon north of Pyongyang on Thursday after removing all seals and switching off surveillance cameras, the IAEA said.
They arrived in Beijing on a flight later in the day, but declined to speak to reporters.
Four U.S. experts monitoring the nuclear plant in Yongbyon were also preparing to depart after North Korea ordered them out, the State Department said. A small group of experts have been rotating into Yongbyon since November 2007.
In his interview, China’s Yang did not appear to directly criticize North Korea over the launch, but said it should offer an explanation.
“North Korea announced a satellite launch,” he said. “It is appropriate for North Korea to explain why it took the action.”
North Korea conducted a nuclear test in 2006 but later agreed to dismantle its nuclear program in return for shipments of fuel oil under a 2007 six-nation deal. The process has been stalled since last year by a dispute over how to verify North Korea’s past nuclear activities.
Associated Press writers Jae-soon Chang and Kelly Olsen in Seoul, Shino Yuasa in Tokyo, Christopher Bodeen in Beijing, George Jahn in Vienna and Foster Klug in Washington contributed to this report.