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China Presses North Korea to Return to Talks


North Korea's prime minister is in China, where officials say they will press him for a resumption of the multi-nation talks on his country's nuclear weapons programs.

North Korean Prime Minister Pak Pong Ju arrived in the Chinese capital one day after a visit by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. During her visit, Ms. Rice urged Beijing to do more to convince the North to return to the nuclear weapons talks it has been boycotting since last June.

At a briefing Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said China would 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. He also repeated China's calls for all sides to be flexible in their demands.

Mr. Pak's agenda includes meetings with Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on Tuesday and President Hu Jintao on Thursday.

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

Mr. Pak's visit includes first-hand looks at the benefits China's economic reforms have brought. His first stop in Beijing on Tuesday included a visit to a mobile phone factory. On Wednesday, he is due to travel to Shanghai, China's fast-modernizing business hub.

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

Condoleezza Rice stressed that point before she left Beijing Monday, and warned 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.

Negotiations have been on hold since June, when the United States offered to allow other nations to supply energy aid if the North agreed to freeze its nuclear programs.

North Korea has not responded to the offer, and has refused to take part in any further talks. It recently stated that it already possesses nuclear weapons.

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