Amid conflicting claims over how close North Korea is to making atomic bombs, China said yesterday that dialogue remained the best option for a resolution to the standoff over the North's nuclear development.
On Monday, an envoy of Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) reportedly urged North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to accept US-proposed talks aimed at resolving the nine-month-old crisis.
China also said the security concerns of North Korea, which fears a US attack, were "rational" and must be resolved. The comment appeared to be part of an effort to fashion a compromise between Washington and Pyongyang. In April, China hosted and participated in talks with the two longtime adversaries.
"China has been very clear that it remains open and flexible on the participants and the formalities of the talks on the nuclear question," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan (孔泉).
"We've been saying that various parties should stick to a peaceful solution to the nuclear question," he said. "We hope the Beijing talks can be continued."
Experts have said Pyongyang could extract enough weapons-grade plutonium to make several atomic bombs by reprocessing its pool of 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods, a procedure that yields weapons-grade plutonium. US officials believe the North already has one or two nuclear bombs.
The New York Times said that North Korea told US officials last week that it has produced enough plutonium to make a half-dozen nuclear bombs and intends to turn the material into weapons. But US intelligence agencies have little evidence to support the North's nuclear claim, the newspaper said.
Last week, Seoul's intelligence chief said Pyongyang may have reprocessed a small number of its 8,000 rods.
In Pyongyang on Monday, Kim met Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo (
China's role is pivotal because it exerts considerable leverage over the North as a major source of food and fuel to its impoverished neighbor. At the same time, China is sharply critical of US proposals for economic and political pressure on North Korea.