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US Envoy Asks China's Help in Resolving N. Korean Nuclear Standoff - 2003-01-15

Washington's top envoy for Asia held talks with North Korea's last ally, China, hoping to get Beijing's help in resolving the nuclear standoff with Pyongyang. The meeting follows Beijing's offer to host talks between the United States and North Korea.

Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly and China's Vice Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing talked about "problems in Sino-American relations" focusing on North Korea.

"We have to keep talking with each other to make sure that things come out in the best possible way," Mr. Kelly said. "And that is why I'm making this third visit to Beijing in just the past few months… There is no substitute for communication. "

Officials communicated very little in public on the substance of the talks, but Mr. Kelly was expected to ask China to do everything it can to get Pyongyang to drop its nuclear ambitions.

China has been urging Washington and Pyongyang to solve their dispute through negotiation, and has offered to host such discussions.

Washington may have made talks more likely with an apparent softening of its position. Tuesday, President Bush said he might revive U.S. food and energy aid if Pyongyang stopped efforts to build nuclear weapons. Secretary of State Colin Powell says Washington may give additional reassurances to Pyongyang the United States has no plan to invade North Korea. He says any new agreement with North Korea must see Pyongyang's nuclear facilities dismantled.

The crisis began last year when Washington said North Korea broke international agreements by starting a program to build nuclear weapons. As the dispute escalated, North Korea moved to restart a nuclear reactor that was shut down under a 1994 agreement with the United States.

North Korea also expelled United Nations nuclear monitors, pulled out of the global nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and threatened to resume testing long-range ballistic missiles.

The Beijing talks come as global diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis got even more intense. South and North Korea have agreed to hold high level talks in Seoul next week, and Russia says it is sending a special envoy to Pyongyang, Beijing, and Washington.