Beijing A senior Chinese official will travel to North Korea after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice holds talks in Beijing this weekend, as China seeks the resumption of negotiations on North Korea's nuclear weapons program, the government announced Friday.
The trip, by Tang Jiaxuan, state councilor and a former foreign minister, is part of Chinese efforts to narrow differences between the Pyongyang government and the Bush administration over the possible return of North Korea to six-nation talks it has boycotted for the last 13 months.
Although the Foreign Ministry's announcement did not detail Tang's plans, the veteran diplomat was expected to report to North Korean officials on Rice's discussions, with the Chinese leadership laying out U.S. ideas for getting the talks back on track.
Rice, scheduled to visit Beijing on Saturday and Sunday, also planned stops in South Korea, Japan and Thailand as part of an Asian tour through Wednesday. Her discussions throughout the trip were expected to focus on efforts to revive the stalled North Korean negotiations, according to State Department spokesmen.
Hopes have risen recently, in particular since the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Il, told a South Korean visitor that he would authorize a resumption of talks this month if the United States showed respect toward Pyongyang. But a Chinese official said it remains unclear whether the promise raised by that comment can be realized any time soon.
Chinese diplomats are uncertain whether the first move should come from North Korea or the United States in order to create an atmosphere permitting new negotiations, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the matter's diplomatic sensitivity. As the host and sponsor of the six-nation talks, and as North Korea's main ally, China has played a key role as go-between, trying to prevent a definitive breakdown despite the wide gap between Washington and Pyongyang.
The Bush administration has responded to Kim's demand for respect by calling on North Korea to set a date for returning to the talks, ignoring suggestions from Chinese officials that softer language could foster a more cooperative attitude from Kim. Specifically, Rice has refused to cede to North Korean demands that she apologize for calling North Korea an "outpost of tyranny."
U.S. officials have said that talks in themselves are not the goal and that North Korea must return to the table willing to take genuine steps toward dismantling its nuclear weapons program. That position was reinforced, U.S. officials said, by North Korea's announcement Feb. 10 that it already possessed nuclear weapons and had no interest in further negotiations.
The talks, comprising North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the United States, began in August 2003 in Beijing. Two more rounds, in February and June 2004, were held here before North Korea balked, citing the Bush administration's tough rhetoric.
China, which is North Korea's neighbor, has invested heavily in keeping the negotiations alive, saying it, too, is eager to remove the danger of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula. But Bush administration officials repeatedly have complained that the Beijing government refuses to use all the tools at its disposal, including oil deliveries, to pressure Kim into giving up his weapons.