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China: No Breakthrough in Bringing N. Korea Back to Nuclear Talks


China says there has been no breakthrough yet in its efforts to get North Korea to rejoin multi-nation talks on ending its nuclear weapons program. Chinese officials say they have thus far failed to draw a commitment on the talks from Prime Minister Pak Pong Ju, who is on a six-day visit to China.

North Korean Prime Minister Pak Pong Ju's visit to China, which started Tuesday, has included visits to factories and a meeting with President Hu Jintao, who urged the North to return to six-party talks on its nuclear program.

Analysts say China is growing increasingly impatient with the North's refusal to resume nuclear disarmament talks with South Korea, Japan, Russia, China and the United States. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao on Thursday suggested little progress has been made during Mr. Pak's visit.

Mr. Liu said no breakthrough has been made on when the talks will resume.

However, Mr. Liu said, the North Korean official did invite President Hu to visit Pyongyang and the two sides are working on the schedule for a trip.

Chinese officials also have taken Mr. Pak to factories as part of a strategy to persuade North Korea to reform its centrally planned economy, giving him a look at the prosperity that has kept the Chinese Communist Party in power.

China does not want the diplomatic crisis over its communist neighbor's nuclear weapons to worsen. Among other concerns, Beijing fears possible international sanctions could trigger a wave of North Korean refugees into its territory.

Larry Niksch, an Asian Affairs specialist at the Congressional Research Service in Washington, says Beijing does not want to see a collapse of the North Korean government and a subsequent unification with U.S. ally South Korea.

"China does not want to see Korean unification result in a major strategic gain by the United States," said Mr. Niksch. "And, I think as long as China has that fear, China is going to support North Korea."

China has increased its efforts to restart the stalled negotiations following a visit a few days ago by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. She warned that if Pyongyang does not return to talks, the United States would consider other unspecified options.

On Wednesday, President Bush urged the North to return to talks, but denied earlier reports that Washington had set a June deadline for the negotiations.

Three earlier rounds hosted by China have failed to draw a commitment from North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs. Since the last round in June, North Korea has refused to participate further and said it had developed nuclear weapons.

Washington wants China to use its influence as North Korea's chief supplier of food and fuel to get Pyongyang to return to talks. U.S. officials say negotiations are the best opportunity the North has to resolve the dispute peacefully and end its international isolation.