April 13, 2013

US, China pledge efforts for nuclear-free NKorea

The Associated Press

BEIJING — The United States and China committed Saturday to a process aimed at ridding North Korea of its nuclear weapons, with the Obama administration gaining at least the rhetorical support of the only government that can exert significant influence over the reclusive North.

The question now is whether Beijing will make good on its pledge to uphold "peace and stability" and work with Washington on achieving the goal of a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.

The declarations from both nations' foreign policy chiefs came as North Korea appears to be readying a missile test that has caused grave concern for the U.S. and its two close Asian allies, South Korea and Japan.

"We are able - the United States and China - to underscore our joint commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in a peaceful manner," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Beijing before having dinner with State Councilor Yang Jiechi.

Kerry and Yang said they'd seek a peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear standoff, which has only grown worse in recent months under its young leader Kim Jong Un.

Since testing an atomic device in February, the North has threatened new tests of its missile capacity and even talked about launching nuclear strikes against the United States, while expanding its U.N.-outlawed uranium and plutonium enrichment program.

"We agreed that this is of critical importance for the stability of the region and indeed for the world and indeed for all of our nonproliferation efforts," Kerry said. "This is the goal of the United States, of China" and of other countries that hope to resume nuclear talks one day with North Korea.

"From this moment forward we are committed to taking actions in order to make good on that goal," he added. "And we are determined to make that goal a reality. China and the United States must together take steps in order to achieve the goal of a denuclearized Korean peninsula. And today we agreed that further discussions to bear down very quickly with great specificity on exactly how we will accomplish this goal."

Kerry said U.S. Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and representatives from U.S. intelligence agencies would travel to Beijing later this month. Kerry also is sending his deputy at the State Department, William Burns, as part of the effort to "make sure that this is not rhetoric but that it is real policy that is being implemented."

Yang said his government's position was clear.

"China is firmly committed to upholding peace and stability and advancing the denuclearization process on the Korean peninsula," he said through an interpreter.

"We maintain that the issue should be handled and resolved peacefully through dialogue," Yang said, adding that China would work with the United States and other nations to resume six-party talks with North Korea that fell apart for good four years ago.

Amid almost daily North Korean threats, the U.S. has been counting on China to force its unruly neighbor to stand down. It's a strategy that has produced uneven results over decades of American diplomacy, during which the North has developed and tested nuclear weapons and repeatedly imperiled peace on the Korean peninsula.

But with only the counter-threat of overwhelming force to offer the North Koreans, the U.S. has little other option.

In their statements delivered side by side, neither Kerry nor Yang specifically addressed the immediate crisis: a North Korean test of a missile with a range of up to 2,500 miles that the U.S. believes could happen any day. Later, Kerry said at a news conference that Washington and Beijing "both call on North Korea to refrain from any provocative steps and that obviously refers to any future missile shoot."

(Continued on page 2)

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