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N. Korea Is Open to Talks: Chinese Envoy Says
Chinese Envoy Wang Jiarui Returns from North Korea
Speical Contribution
By Chris Buckley
Chinese envoy Wang Jiarui (R) arrives at Beijing's Capital International Airport after winning assurance from North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il that the reclusive state would return to six-party talks over its nuclear programs, if conditions were right. Courtesy AFP/Peter Parks

BEIJING, Feb. 23, 2005 — China and the United States have agreed that multiparty talks aimed at halting North Korea's nuclear weapons program should resume as early as possible, and North Korea is open to the negotiations, Chinese officials said Wednesday.

China's foreign minister, Li Zhaoxing, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice agreed to work toward an early resumption of negotiations during a telephone call on Tuesday night, according to an announcement on the Foreign Ministry's Web site.

The brief announcement said Mr. Li and Ms. Rice, who is visiting Europe with President Bush, had had a "thorough exchange of views" about North Korea, but it offered no details.

A Chinese official who visited Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, said Wednesday that North Korea was willing to return to negotiations.

The statement on the ministry Web site and Mr. Li's phone call to Ms. Rice appear to be the latest steps in China's efforts to ease tensions over North Korea's nuclear ambitions by emphasizing hopes of renewed talks and highlighting points of agreement, however tenuous, among the parties.

On Feb. 10, North Korea announced that it had nuclear weapons and said it would no longer join in six-nation talks in which it, South Korea, China, the United States, Japan and Russia had been meeting from August 2003 until June of last year, when the negotiations stalled. The United States has demanded that North Korea dismantle its nuclear program as a precondition for further cooperation and aid.

On Tuesday, a Chinese envoy, Wang Jiarui, ended a four-day visit to Pyongyang aimed at coaxing North Korea back to the negotiating table.

In an interview on Chinese television on Wednesday, Mr. Wang said the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, was open to negotiation despite the Feb. 10 announcement. "The North Korean side never opposed the six-party talks, and the D.P.R.K. is willing to return to the six-party talks at an early date," Mr. Wang said of Mr. Kim's position in their meeting, referring to North Korea by its formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tuesday that the United States and North Korea should both work harder to revive the talks.

"Every side should demonstrate its sincerity and show flexibility," the spokesman, Kong Quan, said in a regular news briefing. "The crucial key," he later added, "is that the most important parties - North Korea and the United States - should make greater efforts."

Washington has said that it is willing to resume the six-nation negotiations and that only North Korea's recalcitrance stands in the way. "All of the other five parties - the United States, China, the Republic of Korea, Japan and Russia - are in fact ready to return to the table at an early date and without preconditions," the State Department spokesman, Richard A. Boucher, said Tuesday.

Mr. Boucher confirmed that Ms. Rice had spoken with Mr. Li. "We expect to have further follow-up and exchanges on the subject of the visit," he said, referring to the trip to Pyongyang by the Chinese official.

Mr. Kim told China's visiting envoy, Mr. Wang, that North Korea would rejoin the talks if conditions were right and if the United States demonstrated "trustworthy sincerity," the North Korean news media reported on Tuesday.

On Saturday, South Korean, American and Japanese officials in charge of negotiating with North Korea will meet in Seoul to discuss their response to North Korea's moves, the South Korean Foreign Ministry announced Wednesday.

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