UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan called yesterday for redoubled efforts to end the North Korean nuclear stalemate and urged East Asia's feuding neighbors to find ways to ease tensions between them.
Wrapping up a five-day visit to China, Annan gave a speech at Peking University, pressing the international community to work much harder to rein in North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
"We cannot allow the current stalemate to continue. All parties will need to redouble their efforts," Annan said.
He singled out China, which hosts the drawn-out six-nation talks on the issue and has the most influence over Stalinist North Korea.
"China's ongoing leadership will be essential to ensure that multilateral diplomatic efforts result in a [Korean] peninsula free from nuclear weapons," Annan said.
The talks, involving North and South Korea, the US, Russia, China and Japan, stalled after the US imposed financial sanctions on Pyong- yang last year for alleged counterfeiting and money laundering.
North Korea has said it will not return to the talks until the sanctions are removed but the US has refused to budge.
North Korea had agreed in principle at the previous round of talks in September to abandon its nuclear weapons program in return for security, diplomatic and energy aid guarantees.
Annan, who met Chinese President Hu Jintao (
Annan said he and Chinese officials discussed the importance of "multilateralism" and the "irreplaceable role of the UN."
China opposed the US invasion of Iraq and indicated it would not support any US-sponsored UN resolution that could open the way for military action to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue.
In his wide-ranging address, Annan also said China, South Korea and Japan should work together to ease their longstanding tensions.
"As a start, this could include protecting the environment in this part of the world. They could also combine their efforts to advance a green revolution in Africa ... that will allow the continent to feed itself," Annan said.
"All this could help pave the way for improved relations," he added.
Annan, who visited South Korea and Japan before traveling to China, has made ending historical enmities a priority on his Asian tour. In Tokyo last week he called on the three to "put their past to rest."
China and South Korea harbor deep resentment over Japan's invasions of their countries in the 20th century.
They are especially infuriated by Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's repeated visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni war shrine, which honors 2.5 million Japanese war dead including 14 top war criminals.
While praising China's economic development, Annan said "huge challenges" remained, particularly the widening wealth gap.
"Somehow the rural poor must be enabled to share in China's amazing economic growth," Annan said.
Two protesters tried to rush toward Annan before he entered the auditorium for his speech but were dragged away by guards. It was unclear what they were protesting about.
Annan later visited the site of the main Olympic stadium for the 2008 Beijing Games.
He then flew to Vietnam for the next leg of the tour before heading to Thailand.