China urges North Korea talks, skirts questions on U.S. sanctions push

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - China on Tuesday pushed for dialogue with North Korea and the full implementation of United Nations sanctions over Pyongyang’s ballistic missile and nuclear tests, skirting questions about Beijing’s talks with the United States on possible new measures.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un provides field guidance during a tactical rocket firing drill carried out by units of the Korean People's Army Strategic Force, July 2014. REUTERS/KCNA

Almost a month ago Washington began discussions with North Korea ally China on strengthening U.N. sanctions. However, a week ago U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said Beijing had gone quiet.

Traditionally, the United States and China have negotiated new sanctions before involving the other 13 U.N. Security Council members. The Trump administration has been aggressively pressing China to rein in North Korea, warning that all options are on the table if Pyongyang persists with its weapons development.

When asked on Tuesday if Beijing was talking to Washington about possible new sanctions, China’s U.N. Ambassador Liu Jieyi said: “It’s up to the council to decide what we should do in the current situation. We’re working closely with other members.”

Liu spoke after a closed-door Security Council meeting on North Korea’s latest missile test on Sunday. Pyongyang said it launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile which met all technical requirements and could now be mass-produced, although U.S. officials questioned the extent of its progress.

The Security Council first imposed sanctions on Pyongyang in 2006 and ratcheted up the measures in response to five nuclear tests and two long-range missile launches. North Korea is threatening a sixth nuclear test.

“First and foremost it is important to implement the Security Council resolutions in a comprehensive way,” Liu said. “We should also work to reduce tension, to de-escalate, and also to try to achieve denuclearization through dialogue.”

Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft and French U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre both said on Tuesday they supported strengthening the U.N. sanctions on North Korea.

North Korea, also known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), has vowed to develop a missile mounted with a nuclear warhead that can strike the mainland United States, saying the program is necessary to counter U.S. aggression.

“We don’t see why dialogue cannot take place in the current situation now,” Liu said. “It takes political will.”

U.S. President Donald Trump said on May 1 he would be “honored” to meet the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un, under the right conditions. A U.S. State Department spokesman has said North Korea would have to “cease all its illegal activities and aggressive behavior in the region.”

The United States has also called on all states to sever or downgrade diplomatic and commercial relations with North Korea. Despite this call, a new weekly ferry service between North Korea and Russia began last week.

The North Korean Foreign Ministry on Tuesday defended the ferry service and said that a U.S. bid to boost sanctions on Pyongyang was “arousing a strong backlash and rejection from Russia as it is an arbitrary practice seriously encroaching on the legal interests of not only the DPRK but also Russia.”

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool