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Chinese Foreign Minister Hopes for Resumption of North Korean Nuclear Talks

Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing says he hopes multi-party talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons programs will resume soon.

China, regarded as the nation best able to influence the reclusive North, has recently sent high-level officials to Pyongyang in hope of restarting the negotiations, which have been stalled since last June.

Addressing reporters on the sidelines of China's annual legislative session, Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said Sunday that Beijing seeks to ensure that the Korean Peninsula is nuclear free. But, he said, the North should have its needs addressed.

Mr. Li said China believes the six-party talks present a realistic choice for the resolution of the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula through dialogue. He says the talks are in the interest of all parties and they should be continued.

North Korea wants security guarantees and economic aid in return for complying with U.S. demands that it give up its nuclear weapons programs.

China has held three rounds of talks bringing together Japan, North and South Korea, Russia and the United States. They have been inconclusive.

The impasse flared in 2002, after U.S. officials said North Korea had admitted having a secret nuclear weapons program in violation of international agreements.

The crisis escalated last month, when North Korea said it had suspended participation in the talks and repeated assertions that has built nuclear weapons, a claim some Western experts say probably is true.

The Chinese foreign minister on Sunday said he does not know whether Pyongyang in fact has developed nuclear weapons.

The United States has asked China to use its influence as North Korea's chief supplier of food and fuel to prod Pyongyang to return to the negotiations. Washington says the six-way process is the best opportunity North Korea has to settle the dispute and end its international isolation.

China says its influence over the North is limited and has urged both the United States and North Korea to be flexible in their demands.