China: North Korea Ready to Talk

North Korean leaders told China they are ready to resume six-nation nuclear talks, the Chinese foreign minister said Sunday, but he didn't say whether Pyongyang (search) attached any conditions.

China has been trying to arrange new talks on the North's nuclear program. Pyongyang announced on Feb. 10 that it had produced nuclear weapons and had no interest in returning to the disarmament talks.

Responding to a message from Chinese President Hu Jintao (search), the North Korean leadership said it "remained ready and willing to continue to participate in the six-party talks," Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said.

Speaking at a news conference, Li didn't say when China received the message, and he didn't respond when asked whether the North attached conditions to the offer to resume talks. Hu's message would have been addressed to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, but Li didn't mention him by name as the source of the reply.

Li appealed to Washington and Pyongyang to show flexibility, and said North Korea's "legitimate concerns should be addressed."

The foreign minister didn't answer directly when asked whether China, the impoverished North's main aid donor, might consider withholding oil or other assistance in order to compel the North to return to talks.

Instead, Li said that as the main parties in the dispute, the United States and North Korea should "gradually increase their mutual trust and mutual understanding."

On Wednesday, the North called on Washington to drop its "hostile policy" and threatened to resume long-range missile tests if its demands weren't met.

The nuclear dispute erupted in late 2003 when Washington said North Korean officials had admitted running a nuclear program in violation of an agreement that gave the North oil in exchange for scrapping nuclear development.

Participants in the talks — which also include Japan, Russia and South Korea — missed a September deadline to hold their latest round after Kim's government refused to take part.

On Saturday, a lower-level Chinese Foreign Ministry (search) official was quoted by state media as recommending that the United States and North Korea meet one-on-one — a tactic that Washington has rejected.

U.S. officials say the problem is regional and requires a multinational settlement.

Li also said he did not know whether the North had nuclear weapons or a uranium enrichment program to produce them, telling a reporter, "I don't know any more than you do."