China in efforts to bridge U.S., North Korea differences

BEIJING (Reuters) - China is in discussions with the United States and North Korea on how to bridge differences and restart talks on ending the North’s nuclear ambitions, a senior Chinese Foreign Ministry official said on Thursday.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il waves to soldiers during his inspection of the Korean People's Army Unit 1159 in this photo released by the Korean Central News Agency on December 2, 2007. The exact date and location for this photo are not disclosed. China has urged North Korea to come forward and deliver on a nuclear disarmament pact before President George W. Bush leaves office early next year, diplomatic sources said on Thursday. REUTERS/Korea News Service

Talks on disarming North Korea have been on hold since Pyongyang missed an end-2007 deadline to give a complete inventory of its nuclear arms program as agreed under a multilateral deal.

“China has raised all kinds of means with both the American and the North Korean sides,” Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei told reporters on the sidelines of China’s annual parliament session.

“We are still discussing these means.”

China hosts the disarmament talks that also include the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia, and, as an old Communist ally of North Korea, it is seen as wielding particular influence over its impoverished and isolated neighbor.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hinted at progress towards implementing the deal, under which the North committed to abandon all nuclear weapons and programs in exchange for aid and diplomatic benefits, following a visit to Beijing last month.

Rice urged China to press North Korea to disclose its nuclear programs so that the stalled accord can move forward and left the chief U.S. negotiator on the issue, Christopher Hill, in Beijing an extra day to follow up on her talks.

Hill made an unexpected return visit to Beijing last weekend, where Japanese news reports said China was trying to broker a meeting between him and the North’s envoy, but North Korean negotiator Kim Kye-gwan failed to turn up.

Wu said North Korea and the other parties disagreed over what constituted “complete and accurate”, in reference to any declaration of its nuclear programs.

U.S. officials say Pyongyang is reluctant to discuss any transfers of nuclear technology to other nations or its suspected pursuit of uranium enrichment.

Wu said it was not time yet to give up on the deal.

“I believe that with the efforts of all sides, the six-party talks can continue to move forward,” he said.

“You can be at ease.”

Reporting by Lindsay Beck; Editing by Nick Macfie