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China to Support Dialogue Between US and North Korea - 2003-01-14

China says it is willing to let the United States and North Korea hold talks in Beijing to resolve their nuclear standoff. The comment comes as a senior U.S. envoy arrives in the Chinese capital to seek China's help in persuading Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons program. China still refuses to say whether it will pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear program, but Tuesday said it would be willing to play a facilitating role.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue told reporters that her government is ready to actively support dialogue between the United States and North Korea on the issue.

Ms. Zhang said if the parties concerned are willing to hold talks in Beijing, China would "have no problem" with the arrangement.

She noted that China does not want to see the current dispute escalate and Beijing continues to maintain close contact with Pyongyang as well as multifaceted diplomatic channels.

China's basic position is that it wants a nuclear free Korean Peninsula, but has declined to take a publicly active role in achieving that until Tuesday.

China is North Korea's last major ally, as well as a large donor of food and energy aid, and therefore might be able to exert influence on its isolated, Communist neighbor.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly in talks with Chinese officials in Beijing is hoping to get Beijing to use its position to pressure North Korea.

Mr. Kelly said Monday in Seoul that the United States and other countries may resume energy aid to North Korea if it scraps nuclear weapons programs. He also repeated a U.S. offer to hold direct talks.

Tensions over North Korea began in October, when U.S. officials said Pyongyang was secretly developing nuclear weapons, in violation of a 1994 agreement. Washington and its allies halted fuel shipments to Pyongyang in response.

Shortly thereafter, North Korea moved to re-open its main nuclear complex, which is capable of producing plutonium weapons, expelled U.N. nuclear inspectors, pulled out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and threatened to resume missile tests.