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China:  Korean Nuclear Issue at 'Crucial Juncture' - 2003-07-22


China said the situation on the Korean peninsula is critical and that talks between Chinese, North Korean and U.S. officials should be resumed as soon as possible.

Speaking to international journalists at the Chinese embassy in Washington Tuesday, spokesman Sun Weide said the North Korean nuclear issue is at what he called "a crucial juncture." He called for the speedy restart of talks between Chinese, North Korean and U.S. officials. The three sides first met in Beijing in April.

"Regarding the resumption of the Beijing talks, of course, the sooner the better," Mr. Sun said.

Mr. Sun said he does not yet have any exact details as to if and when the talks will resume.

The Chinese spokesman said Beijing and Washington are both committed to seeing a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. But he added that North Korea - which he referred to as the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, or DPRK -also has its own, valid security concerns.

"In the meantime, we also think that the legitimate security concerns of the DPRK should be addressed," Mr. Sun said.

State-run North Korean media accuse the United States of targeting the country for war, a charge Washington consistently denies.

In his comments to journalists, Mr. Sun stopped short of saying whether Beijing thinks the United States should provide non-aggression guarantees to North Korea in exchange for talks aimed at getting Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons program. The White House has already rejected the idea as tantamount to blackmail.

Another issue was the plight of North Koreans who flee the country. Beijing considers the tens of thousands of North Koreans who come into neighboring China economic migrants and not refugees, and sends them home. In response to questions about reports that the U.S. government may consider accepting North Korean refugees, Mr. Sun said he hopes all parties involved will not take actions that might - in his words - further escalate the situation.

"I don't think it would help the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula. We very much hope that all sides concerned will exercise restraint and not take any action," Mr. Sun said.

As one of North Korea's remaining allies, China is the major source of the famine-stricken country's food and fuel. Beijing has taken an active diplomatic role in trying to resolve the latest dispute over North Korea's nuclear program. Besides hosting the April talks, Chinese envoys have been shuttling between Pyongyang, Moscow and Washington in recent days to discuss the issue.

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