BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao pressed North Korea on Monday to return to international talks about its nuclear programme, in the latest round of diplomatic manoeuvring to cajole the reclusive country back to the table.
“China hopes that all sides remain in contact and in talks and improve relations so as to resume six-party talks at an early date,” state television paraphrased Wen as telling his North Korean counterpart, Choe Yong-rim.
“This is beneficial for peace and stability on the peninsula and long-term stability in northeast Asia,” Wen added, during a meeting at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.
Envoys from the two Koreas met in Beijing last week for their second meeting in two months, amid a thaw in tensions on the divided peninsula after relations nose-dived last year to the lowest level in nearly two decades.
But the two failed to bridge their differences over the starting point for a new round of the six-party talks, which also involve China, the United States, Japan and Russia.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-il said last month during visits to Russia and China that he was willing to return to stalled nuclear talks without precondition and that he was committed to the aim of a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.
Choe, a life-long confidant of the ruling Kim family, repeated that pledge to Wen, state television said.
Those pledges were intended to improve the chances of reviving the six-nation aid-for-disarmament talks that collapsed when North Korea walked out of them in 2008.
China has been pushing its impoverished neighbour to resume talks, though Seoul, Washington and Tokyo say that Pyongyang must first show it is serious about denuclearising.
North Korea has also flouted past agreements over its nuclear weapons ambitions and is unlikely to give up efforts to build an atomic arsenal it sees as a bargaining tool with the outside world.
China is isolated North Korea’s main source of economic and diplomatic support.
Beijing has shored up its support for Pyongyang in the past two years, despite regional tension over North Korea’s actions, including nuclear weapon tests in 2006 and 2009 that drew U.N. sanctions backed by China.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani