Peking urged to lean on N Korea

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The Independent Online
SEOUL - China was responsible for persuading North Korea to allow unimpeded international inspection of its nuclear facilities, South Korea's Assistant Foreign Minister, Choi Dong Jing, said yesterday.

He said China had a vital role to play in ending the dispute, as Seoul and Peking agreed last month, during the visit to China of the President of South Korea, Kim Young Sam. Mr Choi said there was no clear evidence that North Korea had developed a nuclear bomb, despite efforts to do so: 'What we know is that nobody is sure whether North Korea really has it or not.'

Washington said on Sunday that the United States believed North Korea might have already built two nuclear weapons and was developing a programme that could produce a dozen a year.

'That assessment of the United States is not the unanimous one,' Mr Choi said. 'I understand there are various assessments even in the United States.' Last week the US, Britain, France and Russia circulated a proposed UN resolution that would have warned North Korea that the Security Council might 'consider further . . . action if necessary' unless it allows inspections.

But China, North Korea's last remaining important ally, proposed a milder statement, which the council finally approved unanimously.

'We think China now has responsibility to persuade North Korea to comply with the statement which China so strongly wished to make,' Mr Choi said.

After more than a year of on- off negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and separate talks with the US and South Korea, North Korea was again referred to the Security Council for hampering the latest IAEA inspections in March.

In Tokyo, the Prime Minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, also urged China to join Japanese, US and South Korean efforts to get North Korea to resume some form of dialogue.

Pyongyang has insisted that the crisis can only be settled through direct negotiations with the US. Washington called off a scheduled third round of high-level talks planned for last month after UN experts reported that their inspections had been thwarted.

Mr Choi said that although Pyongyang's rhetoric had become more strident recently, there had been no indication of any immediate military threat.