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China Stresses Diplomacy in N. Korean Issue - 2003-01-09


China says it is maintaining frequent and close contact with all parties on the North Korean nuclear issue. Beijing still refuses to say if it will pressure ally Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program.

China is continuing to stress diplomacy to resolve international concerns over North Korea's nuclear programs.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue told a news conference in Beijing that China is talking to all sides.

She says Beijing has had frequent contacts with Pyongyang and all parties concerned, but declined to say if China would put pressure on its isolated, Communist neighbor to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

China is North Korea's closest ally, and a major donor of food and energy aid - and as such could be influential. But so far Beijing has only restated its position that the Korean Peninsula should be nuclear free.

On the diplomatic front, Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan spoke by telephone with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell Thursday morning about Washington adopting a flexible attitude towards dialogue with North Korea as the way to peace and stability in the region.

Spokeswoman Zhang says Mr. Powell was receptive.

She quotes Mr. Powell as saying that the United States has no hostility towards North Korea, and believes in constructive dialogue to achieve a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.

Washington this week altered its policy of no contacts until North Korea halts its nuclear program. It offered to talk - but said there would be no U.S. concessions to induce North Korea to keep its non-proliferation commitments. North Korea has yet to respond.

Chinese Foreign Minister Tang also met with his French counterpart, Dominique de Villepin, in Beijing Thursday and they agreed a de-escalation of tensions was needed.

The problem arose in October, when U.S. officials say North Korea - confronted with evidence - admitted it was secretly developing nuclear weapons, in violation of a 1994 agreement. Washington and its allies halted fuel shipments to the impoverished country in retaliation. North Korea, in turn, has reactivated frozen nuclear power facilities that could produce plutonium bombs.

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