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China urges "flexibility" on N.Korea nuclear moves

North Korean soldiers look south at the truce village of Panmunjom, September 17, 2008. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

BEIJING (Reuters) - China urged “flexibility” in the North Korean nuclear dispute Tuesday, avoiding harsh words a day after Pyongyang made fresh moves toward possibly restarting a nuclear complex at the heart of the dispute.

Monday, North Korea asked the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog to remove seals and cameras from its main atomic facility, Yongbyon.

The North said Friday it was working to reactivate the plutonium-making Yongbyon complex, the basis of the atomic bomb program it had been dismantling since last November under a disarmament-for-aid deal.

Beijing has hosted the six-party talks, which produced that deal, and has acted as an intermediary between the United States and North Korea, which is heavily dependent on aid from its communist neighbor.

China’s response to Pyongyang’s latest moves was characteristically cautious.

“Under the present circumstances, we hope the concerned parties enhance contacts and show flexibility, and together make efforts to resolve the salient problems as soon as possible,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a regular news conference.

Restarting Yongbyon would be difficult and time-consuming for North Korea, struggling in poverty and isolation. Diplomats and experts have said the moves to restart it are more a negotiating or stalling tactic than a pressing threat.

China has hosted the six-way talks since 2003 and generally avoids harsh words against the North. South Korea, the United States, Japan and Russia also participate in the stop-start negotiations.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Ken Wills and Alex Richardson