United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan says the North Korean nuclear standoff cannot be allowed to continue, and that China's role is crucial in international attempts to resolve the dispute.

Speaking Tuesday in Beijing, Mr. Annan said China's continuing leadership will be essential to ensure that nuclear weapons are kept out of the Korean peninsula.

The secretary-general says he discussed the international community's nuclear dispute with both North Korea and Iran when he met in Beijing Friday with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

China's Foreign Ministry announced today that North Korea's foreign minister, Paek Nam-sun, will visit China next week, at the same time as the United States' top negotiator in the Korean nuclear talks. American envoy Christopher Hill is expected to discuss the stalled negotiations with Chinese officials, but there is no indication he will meet with Pyongyang's envoy.

The last round of six-party talks, in Beijing last September, included representatives from the United States, Japan, Russia, China, North Korea and South Korea.

Mr. Annan was speaking Tuesday at Peking University in the Chinese capital. He arrived in Beijing from Japan, where he met with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and other senior leaders. The U.N. leader began his Asian tour in Seoul, and also will travel to Thailand and Vietnam.