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BEIJING (Reuters) - China urged regional powers on Monday to revive moribund nuclear disarmament talks with North Korea, with its foreign minister Yang Jiechi defending Beijing as an honest broker seeking to defuse confrontation with Pyongyang.
Yang made the call at a forum in Beijing to mark the sixth anniversary of an agreement struck at six-party nuclear disarmament talks on September 19, 2005, which offered North Korea economic and energy aid and firmer diplomatic footing in return for dismantling its nuclear arms programme.
That agreement marked a high point in China's efforts to act as a broker helping to defuse the North Korean nuclear dispute.
But since then negotiations have faltered, and Beijing's role has eroded because of its resistance to demands from Washington and Seoul to denounce Pyongyang for deadly confrontations with South Korea.
Yang told diplomats and scholars it was time to set aside the quarrels and focus on restarting the six-party talks.
"We're pleased to see that various parties have been undertaking positive contacts around restarting the six-party talks, and all sides should seize opportunities to maintain the momentum of dialogue," said Yang.
"We must take our own countries' security interests seriously, and also take into account the legitimate security concerns of other countries," he said.
Envoys from North and South Korea will meet this week in Beijing to discuss the North's atomic arms programme, which has included nuclear test blasts in 2006 and 2009 that drew U.N. sanctions.
Beijing is Pyongyang's sole main diplomatic backer and economic partner and has consolidated its support in the past two years while the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il has paved the way for a future leadership transition.
But the long-stalled six-party negotiations have also served as a trophy of China's regional diplomacy and a source of cooperation with the United States, and Yang defended Beijing as a positive player in regional peace efforts.
"China does not have its own selfish interests in the issues on the (Korean) peninsula, and has received widespread acclaim and high marks from the international community for its constructive role in protecting regional peace and stability," said Yang.
The six-party talks held in Beijing since 2003 have brought together North and South Korea, China, the United States, Japan and Russia in irregular bouts of intense negotiations.
North Korea walked out of the talks more than two years ago after the United Nations imposed fresh sanctions on it for holding nuclear and missile tests.
Last year, relations between Pyongyang and regional neighbours were further damaged by the killing of 50 South Koreans in two separate attacks on the peninsula -- one on a navy ship and one on an island near disputed waters.
Yang did not mention those attacks in his speech. Nor did he mention North Korea's announcement that it is advancing with uranium enrichment efforts, which would give it an alternative pathway to making nuclear weapons.
Negotiations cannot make progress "overnight", and certainly face more hardships ahead, said Yang. But the six-party talks remain the sole path for a lasting solution to the divisions on the Korean peninsula, he added.
"Looking back at the past eight years, we can see that whenever the parties actively strive for dialogue and seek progress, the region tends to be stable," said Yang.
"But whenever the talks falter, the region suffers turbulence and instability," he added.
During a visit to Russia last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il said he would consider suspending nuclear arms tests and production if the six-party talks resume.
But Washington and its allies, Seoul and Tokyo, have demanded Pyongyang first take steps to show that it is serious about returning to the disarmament path, such as freezing its uranium enrichment programme and allowing the international nuclear inspectors to return to its Yongbyon nuclear site.
Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Ed Lane