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China Could Pressure Pyongyang to Drop Nuclear Program - 2002-12-12

A top visiting U.S. diplomat says China appears willing to put pressure on North Korea to drop its nuclear program. But China is not revealing whether it will take action to change the behavior of its isolated ally.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage says that Beijing agrees Pyongyang should abandon its nuclear program. Mr. Armitage did not give any details, but he told reporters in Beijing Thursday that he expected China to help influence its communist neighbor and ally, North Korea.

"China shares the same concern the United States has…and that is that we have to find a way to de-nuclearize the peninsula of Korea," Mr. Armitage said. " And I'm sure the Chinese will be urging some different behavior on the North Koreans."

Mr. Armitage made his comments while in Beijing for talks with Chinese officials on North Korea, Iraq and other issues.

China's Foreign Ministry, however, deflected questions about Mr. Armitage's remarks.

Foreign Ministry Spokesman Liu Jianchao told a news conference that China has always supported a nuclear-free, stable and peaceful Korean Peninsula. Mr. Liu said that the 1994 agreement between North Korea and a U.S. led group should be maintained, and that problems should be resolved through dialogue.

In 1994, North Korea promised to cease its nuclear activities that could make weapons, in exchange for safe nuclear energy reactors and oil from the United States, Japan and other nations.

But the United States revealed in October that North Korea had an illegal program to enrich uranium to make nuclear weapons, violating the 1994 deal. In response the U.S.-led energy consortium halted oil shipments to pressure the hardline, communist government.

Late on Thursday, North Korea announced that, in response, it would immediately reactivate its nuclear energy power facilities. China has yet to respond to Pyongyang's new announcement.