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Korean nuclear issue centre of discussions
By Hu Xiao (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-04-29 21:54

China confirmed Thursday it will host working level discussions on the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue on May 12 with an eye towards the next round of six-party talks.

After the last round, members decided to convene again before the end of June 2004.

"The fundamental goal (of the working group meeting) is to make preparations for the third round of (six-party) talks based on the consensus reached at the end of the second round," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan during Thursday's regular press conference.

The announcement came shortly after a visit to China last week by Kim Jong-il, chairman of the National Defence Commission of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and US Vice President Dick Cheney's visit earlier.

Kong praised Kim Jong-il for helping facilitate the meeting.

"Kim Jong-il expressed willingness to participate in the six-party talks and achieve the final goal of the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,", Kong said.

A statement published by the official KCNA news agency said that DPRK will attend the working group talks.

The lower-level talks are expected to focus on details rather than some principles.

"At working group talks, participants should have in-depth talks to seek ways of defusing tensions over the nuclear issue," Kong told reporters, adding that the meeting is open-ended.

The working group meeting was agreed during the second round of six-party talks in February.

Two rounds of six-party talks -- which included the DPRK, the United States, China, Republic of Korea (ROK), Russia and Japan -- were held in Beijing in August 2003 and the latest in February this year.

Ning Fukui, Beijing's special envoy for Korean Peninsula affairs, will head the Chinese team at the working group meeting.

Ning called for a "flexible" approach toward the nuclear stand-off after arriving in ROK for a two-day visit.

Ning has also kicked off a visit to Japan, Russia and the United States.

"We hope the participants will be more flexible and take a realistic approach so that progress can be made," Ning said.

The nuclear standoff erupted in October 2002 after US officials claimed Pyongyang had admitted to reviving a programme to produce atomic weapons.

Economic aid is key in Pyongyang demands for its freezing and then dismantling its nuclear programmes while Washington has said a freeze is not enough. Washington has asked the DPRK to first dismantle "all" its nuclear programmes.

China maintains that the goal is to secure a promise from the DPRK to freeze all of its nuclear activities and accept inspections as the first step towards the final goal of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. Meanwhile the other parties concerned should respond to the needs of the DPRK.

China says that providing energy support to the DPRK is one of the responses.

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