BEIJING – China said Thursday it had arranged a meeting between U.S. and North Korean officials this week in Beijing to try to restart six-nation talks on the North's nuclear programs, but it did not give any details of the session.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan didn't identify the U.S. or North Korean officials. But he added, "I won't deny the name you said," when a reporter mentioned U.S. envoy Christopher Hill, who South Korean media had said met with his North Korean counterpart in Beijing.
Hill made a surprise visit to the Chinese capital as North Korean leader Kim Jong Il wrapped up a weeklong visit to China. Hill said as he left that he met with Chinese officials but didn't mention any meeting with the North Korean envoy, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan.
"This contact shows the three parties have a positive attitude toward this, believing that this contact is very helpful," Kong said at a news briefing. "It is our hope that through efforts of relevant parties, we can narrow differences."
Kong didn't give any details of the meeting. Hill said earlier that there was no date for holding the next full round of nuclear talks. The other participants are South Korea, Japan and Russia.
A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman in Beijing, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, said she couldn't confirm whether Hill met Kim.
North Korea agreed in September to give up nuclear development in exchange for aid and a security guarantee. But the talks, begun in 2003, have been stalled since November over Pyongyang's anger at what it calls hostile U.S. policies.
Kong said Kim Jong Il and President Hu Jintao committed to resuming stalled six-nation nuclear talks.
"The two sides have committed to resuming the six-party talks," Kong said.
Kim Jong Il was quoted by the North's official news agency as saying he wants a peaceful settlement of the dispute. Hu prodded Kim to return to the talks, calling them the "correct choice."
Beijing is under U.S. pressure to use its status as the North's main aid donor to press Kim for progress in the nuclear talks.
The North has refused to return to the negotiations unless Washington ends financial sanctions imposed over its alleged illegal activities. U.S. officials have rejected the demand, saying the matter is a criminal issue unrelated to the nuclear talks.