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China Plays Down Concern About Possible Delay of Korean Nuclear Talks - 2004-09-14

China says it will continue efforts to bring North Korea back to talks intended to convince the communist state to give up its nuclear weapons programs.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry says "the sky will not fall" if talks about North Korea's nuclear weapons programs are delayed. A ministry spokesman on Tuesday called on all six countries involved in the talks to show flexibility so the next round can take place as soon as possible, if not this month as scheduled.

British Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell says North Korean leaders indicated to him they are committed to the talks.

"At the end of the discussions, what was clear to me was that the North Koreans were saying they were still committed to the six-party talks process, but weren't prepared to commit to a date," he said. "I simply said to them, 'you have got to come back to the table.'"

Mr. Rammell spoke to reporters in Beijing Tuesday after a visit to Pyongyang.

He says North Korean officials gave him no clear reason for their hesitancy to return to the talks. But he indicated that Pyongyang may be waiting for the U.S. presidential election in November, in hope of having a new administration to deal with.

Diplomats from the United States, China, Japan and South Korea have been meeting over the past few days, working to get the talks going. A fourth round, which also will include Russia, was tentatively planned for next week.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly wrapped up a visit to Beijing Tuesday by saying that Washington is eager to hold talks and disappointed with "stalling" by Pyongyang.

The diplomatic activity comes amid concerns over a large explosion in a remote part of North Korea.

The communist state's Voice of Korea radio said Tuesday that the blast was part of a project to build a hydro-electric dam. The broadcast ridiculed foreign reports that the explosion could have been a nuclear test or a mountain fire.

VOK Broadcaster: "The explosion accident talked about by them is nothing more than a mean lie probably fabricated out of the need to divert the public attention elsewhere as they have been driven into a tight corner recently before the world public because of the nuclear issue."

North Korea has offered to let foreign diplomats inspect the blast location. British officials say they are making preparations for the trip to the area.

Foreign analysts have expressed skepticism about North Korea's explanation for the blast, noting it would be highly unusual to set off a construction explosion at night. They also question whether a dam is actually being built in the area.