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US Experts: China Frustrated With N. Korea Over Nuclear Issue

FILE - Satellite images of nuclear complex in Yongbyon, North Korea, Sept. 20, 2011 and Feb. 3, 2012. (DigitalGlobe)

Former U.S. officials say China does not appear to be placing a high priority on resolving disputes over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, which if true could complicate Washington's efforts to resolve the issue.

The warning comes as Pyongyang seems to continue enhancing its nuclear capabilities while negotiations with the communist country have remained deadlocked since 2008.

Stapleton Roy, who served as the U.S. ambassador to China from 1991 to 1995, said Beijing appears to be increasingly frustrated with North Korea’s unwillingness to engage in serious negotiations. Roy recently visited Beijing and met with officials and scholars there as part of a National Committee on American Foreign Policy delegation. The New York-based group promotes dialogue to resolve disputes between nations.

Denuclearization not high priority

“The North Korean nuclear issue didn’t seem to have that high priority in our discussions in China,” said Roy at an event in Washington Monday.

“My sense was that was because the Chinese share our own frustration at not knowing how to engage with the North Koreans on this issue. Every approach that might open the door to significant discussions on denuclearization has been closed by Kim Jong Un,” the former envoy added.

Evans Revere, former principal deputy assistant secretary of state, who also participated in the talks with the Chinese, said officials in Beijing do not appear to expect any significant progress on the nuclear issue in the near future.

No breakthrough expected

“There was not much expectation on the part of the Chinese with whom we met that there will be a breakthrough on the nuclear issue with North Korea anytime soon,” said Revere.

Revere said China appears to be focusing on “stability” on the Korean peninsula over denuclearization, after realizing that the current standoff over the North Korean nuclear issue will not end soon.

The United States and North Korea have been at odds over Pyongyang’s nuclear development since the early 1990s. Multi-state talks involving the United States, China, both Koreas, Japan and Russia have ended in failure.

In early 2013, Pyongyang declared a policy of pursuing economic and nuclear development simultaneously. In May, Pyongyang claimed it has the ability to miniaturize nuclear weapons. Washington remains skeptical of the assertion, but some U.S. military officials believe Pyongyang might have that capability.

Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.