China, S. Korea pledge efforts to resolve nuclear crisis

Tuesday, July 8, 2003

BEIJING -- The leaders of China and South Korea pledged new efforts Monday to resolve the standoff over North Korea's suspected development of nuclear weapons, but China also said the North needs reassurances it won't come under attack.

Chinese President Hu Jintao and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun spoke to reporters after closed-door talks in Beijing, North Korea's leading ally.

"We must open up channels between all concerned parties as soon as possible," Roh said at a news conference.

"And in order to reach a consensus, all sides need to make relentless efforts."

Hu said both countries agreed on the importance of maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

"We want to avoid the situation getting out of hand, so we need to deepen our efforts to make a breakthrough," Hu said.

Pledging China's support for dialogue, Hu also gave a nod to North Korea's repeated calls for a guarantee from the United States that it will not be attacked.

"At the same time we think we must earnestly consider the security concerns of North Korea," Hu said. "This is our principal position."

China has said it is in favor of keeping nuclear weapons off the Korean Peninsula -- a stand Hu reaffirmed Monday. In April, Beijing hosted the first formal talks between Washington and Pyongyang since the nuclear dispute started in October.

Role for China

Roh, making his first visit to China since taking office in February, has called for Beijing to play a "constructive role" in resolving the nuclear dispute. China recently offered to host more talks.

The nuclear standoff flared last October when U.S. officials said Pyongyang admitted having a secret nuclear weapons program in violation of a 1994 deal with Washington.

U.S. officials said a North Korean envoy claimed during the April meeting in Beijing that Pyongyang already had nuclear bombs and planned to build more, but that it was willing to give them up if it received security guarantees and economic aid.

The United States says any talks with North Korea should also involve South Korea, Japan and Russia as well as China -- the North's only major ally.

North Korea insists on holding direct talks with the United States before multilateral talks.

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