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China sees no sign of N.Korea nuclear test
Updated: 2005-05-24 14:14

China has no evidence to suggest North Korea will conduct a nuclear test, a senior foreign ministry official said on Tuesday, adding that the next six weeks would be critical for returning to stalled multilateral talks.

Shen Guofang, assistant minister of foreign affairs, said China sees no sign of nuclear test by North Korea in an interview May 23, 2004. [fmprc.gov.cn]
Concern has been growing North Korea could conduct a test after it declared in February it had nuclear weapons and said this month it had removed fuel rods from its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, a potential precursor to a test.

"We also saw some reports that North Korea is going to conduct a nuclear test, however there is no hard evidence proving that," Assistant Foreign Minister Shen Guofang told Reuters.

"If there would be such a nuclear test, it is a serious issue. If it does happen, China will make corresponding responses, but up to now there is no sign that it is conducting such a test," Shen said.

Talks hosted by China, including North and South Korea, the United States, Japan and Russia and aimed at dismantling Pyongyang's nuclear programs, have been stalled for nearly a year, but Shen said the next few weeks would be critical for deciding their fate.

"I believe that May and June are a very crucial period," he said.

Despite the long delay and worries over what Pyongyang says are its growing nuclear capabilities, Shen said there was positive momentum toward a return to the negotiating table.

He cited working-level talks between North Korea and the United States in New York in early May -- their first face-to-face contact in five months -- and a ministerial visit with Seoul last week.

Though neither yielded immediate results, Shen said they were important steps and urged patience.


"Most recently there are some positive signs. North Korea repeated that it hoped to remain committed to the six-party talks and indicated that it would like to have direct contact with the U.S. side under the framework of six-party talks," Shen said.

"The U.S. side on many occasions said it recognizes North Korea as a sovereign state and hoped it could have direct, face-to-face meetings with the North under the six-party talks."

That recognition from Washington, which has dubbed North Korea part of an "axis of evil" alongside Iran and pre-war Iraq, is seen as crucial since the North says it is the United States' "hostile policy" that is keeping it away from talks.

China, the North's old ally and the provider of most of its fuel and food aid, has been under pressure to do more to strongarm Pyongyang back to the table, but Shen said resuming talks was up to the United States and North Korea.

"The key is the lack of mutual trust between the two sides, which is increasing over the years," Shen said. "It's like a hard iceberg -- it takes a long time to melt."

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