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Beijing, Seoul Seek Peaceful Resolution of Nuclear Issue - 2003-02-18

China and North Korea have jointly expressed a desire to solve the crisis over the north's nuclear weapons program through peaceful dialogue. However, Beijing still gives no public indication that it is ready to play a more active role in resolving the crisis, which intensified once again on Tuesday.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry says North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun expressed his hope for peaceful dialogue in Beijing Tuesday morning, during talks with China's vice-foreign minister, Wang Yi.

Spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue told reporters in Beijing that both sides say nuclear tensions on the Korean peninsula should be resolved through peaceful means and dialogue.

She said Mr. Paek stopped over in Beijing en route to a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement in Malaysia. She gave no other details of the talks, which came at a critical time.

Earlier Tuesday, North Korea threatened to abandon the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War if the United States imposed economic or military sanctions against the North. The statement followed reports that Washington is making contingency plans for just such sanctions.

That announcement by the North Korean People's Army raised the rhetoric coming out of Pyongyang yet another notch. Pyongyang has been accusing Washington of planning to attack it, and has been making increasingly warlike statements since the dispute over the North's suspected nuclear weapons program began late last year.

China is North Korea's last major ally, as well as the biggest donor of food and energy. U.S. officials have expressed the hope that Beijing would try to exert influence on its isolated, Communist neighbor to end its weapons program. The Chinese have been reluctant to intervene actively in the crisis, and Washington has criticized Beijing for failing to play a larger role.

The spokeswoman, Ms. Zhang, rejected suggestions that China is not doing enough to find a solution to North Korea's nuclear crisis. She told reporters that China supports a nuclear-free Korean peninsula, and urged a resumption of talks between Washington and Pyongyang.

Tensions over North Korea began in October, when U.S. officials said Pyongyang was secretly developing nuclear weapons, in violation of a 1994 agreement. Washington and its allies halted fuel shipments to Pyongyang in response.

North Korea then moved to re-open nuclear facilities, expelled U.N. nuclear inspectors, and pulled out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.