China calls for urgent talks on North Korea

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The Independent Online

China today called for emergency consultations among six governments in moribund talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear programme, adding that they would not amount to a full restart of the negotiations.

The call was made by a senior Chinese diplomat, Wu Dawei, at a brief news conference. The stalled talks bring together North and South Korea, host China, the United States, Japan and Russia.

"Although the proposed consultations do not mean the resumption of the six-party talks, we hope they will create conditions for their resumption," said Wu, China's special representative on Korean affairs.

"The members of the six-party talks are deeply concerned with the situation in the Korean peninsula," Wu told the hastily organised briefing.

The step appears to be part of Beijing's effort to ease tensions between the two Koreas without alienating its prickly ally, Pyongyang, which depends on Beijing for economic and political support.

But responding to China's new call, South Korea swiftly said now was not the time to discuss reviving the talks.

Confrontation between Seoul and Pyongyang erupted after North Korea shelled a South Korean island last week, prompting calls from Washington and its regional allies for China to use its sway to rein in Pyongyang.

Beijing is the North's most powerful ally and has repeatedly urged restraint and fresh talks to defuse tensions. China has voiced concern about joint US-South Korea military exercises aimed at warning North Korea that began today.

China has sought to defuse confrontation by hosting the six-party nuclear disarmament talks since August 2003.

In April 2009, North Korea said it was quitting the talks and reversing nuclear "disablement" steps, unhappy with implementation of an initial aid-for-disarmament deal reached in 2007.

North Korea has been retreating from its earlier public renunciation of the talks, but there are no plans for their resumption.

Their prospects have also been clouded by a US nuclear scientist's recent report that Pyongyang has built a uranium enrichment plant, possibly giving it another pathway to making fissile material for nuclear weapons.

South Korea and the US have said resuming the talks will be impossible until North Korea makes concessions over the sinking in March of one of Seoul's warships and shows it is serious about nuclear disarmament.