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China Urges Direct N. Korea-US Talks - 2003-02-11

China is rebuffing a U.S. request to help pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear program. Instead, Beijing is again urging Washington and Pyongyang to solve their differences through face-to-face negotiations.

China's Foreign Ministry says the best way to solve the standoff between the United States and North Korea over Pyongyang's efforts to build nuclear weapons is through bilateral talks.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue says the two sides should talk directly, even though the North Korean nuclear issue is a concern to all of North Korea's neighbors.

She was responding to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell's recent request for stronger Chinese efforts to get North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions. China is North Korea's neighbor, communist ally, and source of much of the starving country's food and fuel imports.

Washington says it wants to solve the issue through multilateral talks, but North Korea rejects that idea.

Pyongyang says it has the right to have weapons of mass destruction because Washington is threatening to attack with nuclear bombs. President Bush has said repeatedly that the United States has no intention of attacking North Korea.

Ms. Zhang says the two countries should return to the 1994 agreement that shut down North Korean nuclear facilities, which experts said could easily provide materials for nuclear weapons. Under the agreement, Washington was supposed to provide fuel aid to North Korea.

That agreement broke down after Washington said last October that Pyongyang admitted it was breaking the deal with covert efforts to build nuclear weapons. That led the United States to end its fuel aid.

The escalating dispute saw North Korea expel U.N. nuclear experts, move to restart its idled reactor, and pull out of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

The United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency, will discuss the issue Wednesday and may refer it to the U.N. Security Council.