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Rice doubts N Korea nuke promise

CNN
Oct 22, 2006 at 08:28am IST

Moscow (Russia): US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Saturday said that a high-ranking Chinese envoy, who met earlier with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, did not say that Pyongyang would refrain from conducting further nuclear tests.

"I don't know whether Kim Jong Il said any such thing referring to whether he regretted the test or not," Rice told reporters, referring to an earlier report from South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

According to the report, Kim said "His country had no plan to conduct an additional nuclear test." Rice was speaking en route to Russia on the final leg of a tour to push UN sanctions in response to North Korea's nuclear test.

HARD TALK: Rice is expected to press Moscow on what practical steps it will take to implement sanctions on N Korea.

Yonhap attributed the information to an informed diplomatic source in Beijing, China. The news agency said Kim passed along the promise during a meeting with Chinese envoy Tang Jiaxuan.

China holds some political sway with North Korea, and provides the nation with most of its food and fuel.

North Korea's surprise underground nuclear test on October 9 appeared to confirm long-held fears that the communist country was developing an atomic weapons program.

Pyongyang insisted it is attempting to acquire nuclear capabilities for peaceful means, but the test prompted the United Nations to pass Resolution 1718, authorizing sanctions against the communist government.

In Russia, Rice is expected to press Moscow on what practical steps it will take to implement sanctions.

While in Moscow she will discuss the matter with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, CNN's Matthew Chance said that the Russian government was unlikely to have major impact on Pyongyang's policies.

"There is recognition in Washington that Moscow's leverage with North Korea is somewhat limited," he said.

Russia, along with South Korea, the United States, China and Japan was involved in multi-nation talks with the North which collapsed last year after restrictions from Washington were imposed on Pyongyang's external financing.

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China has said that Pyongyang may be willing to reenter the talks, but Rice said she had yet to receive any offer.

"We did not receive a proposal as such that the North Koreans will return to the talks," Rice told CNN. "But, of course, they can come back to the talks at any time without conditions."

Referring to the talks between the North Koreans and Tang Jiaxuan, Rice said, "The Chinese obviously wanted to send a message to the North that they had engaged in very serious behavior that China did not support.

"They also wanted very much to try and get a return to the diplomatic path and the six-party talks," Rice said.

She said Tang reported that he valued the chance to air China's positions with North Korean leaders.

"We hope all relevant parties can maintain cool-headedness, adopt a prudent and responsible attitude and adhere to peaceful dialogue as the main approach," Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said in a joint Beijing news conference with Rice.

"We are willing to strengthen consultations and cooperation with all parties to break the stalemate and restart the six-party talks as soon as possible," he added.

Rice said she and Li spoke Friday about leaving open "a path to negotiation through the six-party talks," but only if Pyongyang returns to the talks "without condition."

North Korea previously has declined returning to multilateral negotiations on its nuclear weapons program as long as financial sanctions are imposed.

However, Kim reportedly told a Chinese envoy that "if the United States made some concessions, then we would make some concessions as well, whether they be in the form of bilateral talks or in the form of the six-party talks," according to South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo.

Asked to respond to the newspaper report, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said they were not aware of any such comments by Kim, but Li was overheard telling Rice that Tang's trip "was not in vain."

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