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North Korea Says it Has Not Given Up on Nuclear Talks

Chinese state media report that North Korea's prime minister says his country is not opposed to continuing multi-nation negotiations on its nuclear weapons programs. The comments come during Pak Pong Ju's visit to China.

North Korean Prime Minister Pak Pong Ju met with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao as Beijing continues efforts to convince Pyongyang to return to stalled nuclear disarmament talks.

Chinese state television quoted Mr. Pak as telling his host that North Korea does not oppose the six-party talks, nor has it abandoned the process.

The announcer quoted the North Korean official as saying Tuesday that his country is ready to return to talks as soon as conditions are "mature." However, there were no details on what he meant by that.

Mr. Pak arrived in Beijing a day after a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who urged China to do more to convince the North to return to the negotiations.

Three rounds of talks involving China, North and South Korea, Japan, Russia and the United States have so far failed to end Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs. North Korea has refused thus far to attend a fourth round.

At a briefing earlier Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said China would continue to press North Korea to go back to the negotiations table.

Mr. Liu says China will continue to do its part in the effort to restart the talks, and he hopes the United States and North Korea will recognize China's efforts.

China has been pushing North Korea to carry out economic reforms. Analysts say Beijing wants North Korean officials to see how economic prosperity has fostered stability in China and kept the leadership in power, a paramount concern for North Korea's leaders.

Mr. Pak's six-day visit to China includes first-hand looks at benefits that China's economic reforms have brought. In Beijing Tuesday, he toured a mobile phone factory. On Wednesday, he will travel to Shanghai, China's quickly modernizing business hub.

In the past, China has offered substantial economic aid to the impoverished North as an incentive for it to join negotiations. As the main supplier of food and fuel to the Stalinist state, many governments including the United States, believe China has the most leverage of any nation to influence Pyongyang.

Secretary of State Rice stressed that point before she left Beijing Monday, warning that the United States might consider "other options" if the North fails to return to the talks. She repeated the Bush administration's assertions that the United States does not intend to invade North Korea, but suggested that aggressive economic sanctions might be considered.