N.Korea says no more tests

Updated: 2006-10-21 09:34

North Korea has told a Chinese envoy it plans no further nuclear tests, South Korean and Japanese media reported on Friday, raising hopes China's diplomacy might draw its unpredictable neighbor back to talks.

North Koreans load goods from a boat onto a truck on the bank of the Yalu River near the North Korean town of Sinuiju opposite the Chinese border town of Dandong, October 20, 2006.China and the United States pressed North Korea on Friday to return to talks on ending its nuclear arms program and called for full implementation of U.N. sanctions imposed on the country after its October 9 atomic test.[Reuters]

But U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ended an Asian tour to rally support for U.N. sanctions on North Korea with few commitments on how the restrictions would be implemented and uncertain the six-party talks would resume.

"I can't answer whether they are serious about returning to six-party talks or not," Rice told reporters in Beijing after three days of diplomacy in Japan, South Korea and China. She said Pyongyang's tone was still belligerent.

North Korea's October 9 nuclear test sparked international condemnation and led to last Saturday's U.N. Security Council vote to impose economic and weapons sanctions.

The Japanese news agency Kyodo quoted Foreign Minister Taro Aso as saying he had information, although not confirmed, that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il had said he would not conduct another test.

Highlighting North Korea's stance that it needs a nuclear deterrent, more than 100,000 people rallied on Friday in the main square of Pyongyang to hail the nuclear test.

"The nuclear test was an exercise of the independent and legitimate right of the DPRK as a sovereign state," the North's official KCNA quoted Choe Thae-bok, a senior member of the Workers' Party of Korea, as saying.

But a report by the South Korean news agency Yonhap that North Korea did not plan another test reinforced the optimism of China's envoy over the prospects of bringing Pyongyang back into the six-party talks.

"I understand he expressed clearly there was no plan to conduct nuclear tests," Yonhap quoted a diplomatic source saying.

Chinese President Hu Jintao sent a team of diplomats led by State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan to Pyongyang earlier this week as speculation mounted that the communist state might be about to detonate a second nuclear device.

"Fortunately, my visit this time has not been in vain," Tang said at the opening of his meeting with Rice in Beijing.

Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said Tang and the North Koreans also discussed how to kick-start the talks, but Rice indicated that Washington and Pyongyang were still poles apart on how to get back to the negotiating table.


The talks, which bring together the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and China, stalled last November after Washington imposed restrictions on Pyongyang's external financing after accusing it of counterfeiting money.

South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper quoted an unidentified diplomatic source in Beijing as saying Kim told Tang that Pyongyang would return to the talks if Washington ended the financial sanctions.

Kim also expressed regret to Tang about the difficult position in which the test had placed Beijing, it said.

China's Xinhua news agency quoted Tang as saying the United States should be more flexible when dealing with North Korea, but Rice said the financial sanctions would remain.

"The (US) president has made very clear at every turn that he is going to defend the US currency," she said.

China said it would meet its UN obligations but did not say how. It fears interdictions of Korean ships on the high seas, one measure included in the sanctions, would worsen the crisis and provoke North Korea into stronger action.

Rice said she had been assured China would be "scrupulous" in inspecting North Korean cargo on its border, but she would wait and see. "Let's just watch what the Chinese do," she told reporters on Friday.

In South Korea, Rice failed to convince the government to abandon two projects in the North which the United States says are providing cash to the North Korean government.

South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said only that his government would review them and see whether they were in accordance with the UN resolution.