Published July 12, 2006
BEIJING – The U.S. nuclear envoy accused North Korea on Wednesday of refusing to cooperate in efforts to end the uproar over its missile and nuclear programs — a sign that Pyongyang had rebuffed lobbying by ally China.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill met with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing to assess Beijing's effort to persuade the North to stop missile tests and return to six-party nuclear disarmament talks. Hill said he had "very good" discussions with Li but reported no progress.
"China's really trying. We're trying. Everyone is trying except, unfortunately, the DPRK," Hill told reporters, referring to the North by the initials of its formal name. "So far the DPRK seems to want to choose a road of deeper isolation."
Hill said a Chinese delegation visiting Pyongyang have held meetings with North Korean officials but want to conduct more. He had no details of the talks.
Supporters of a U.N. resolution that would impose sanctions on the North over its missile tests last week have postponed a vote to give China time to use its influence as the North's main ally and aid donor to push for renewed negotiations.
"Unfortunately, we don't yet have any sign that the DPRK attaches the same amount of importance to this process," Hill said.
The resolution, introduced by Japan, would ban North Korean missile tests and prevent the regime — by force, if necessary — from acquiring or exporting missiles and missile technology or weapons of mass destruction and their components.
It is backed by the United States, Britain, France and other countries. But China and Russia, both veto-weilding members of the U.N. Security Council, have criticized it.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticized Japan for what he called its uncompromising stance on the resolution.
"The Security Council's reaction must be firm, but it mustn't be overloaded with emotions and mustn't contain threats that could drive the situation into a deadlock," Lavrov said Wednesday. "Unfortunately, the draft Security Council resolution now under discussion is fraught with all these unacceptable drawbacks."
Beijing has proposed an alternative resolution with many of the same measures — on a voluntary basis. It calls for a return to the six-party talks, which involve the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.
China appealed Wednesday to Washington and Pyongyang to settle a dispute over U.S. sanctions on North Korean companies accused of weapons trafficking and other offenses. The North has refused to return to the talks while the sanctions are in place.
"We hope this issue could be resolved quickly. In fact, it has already affected the progress of the six-party talks," said Liu Jianchao, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman.
Hill said he did not discuss the sanctions with Li but that Washington would do its best to "to prevent the DPRK from financing these sorts of activities."
North Korea is "a country that seems to be more interested in launching missiles than it is in providing electricity to its citizens, more interested in missile production than it is in food production," Hill said. "We are looking for ways that we can protect ourselves from this type of very ... militaristic national priorities."
North Korea, meanwhile, appealed for aid during talks with South Korea in the South's port of Busan.
A South Korean official, Lee Kwan-se, said the South's diplomats warned that the missile tests were threatening reconciliation efforts on the divided peninsula. Lee said the North didn't respond, and instead requested 500,000 tons of rice.
South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said sanctioning North Korea would have a negative effect on the region and would not help efforts to resume the six-party process.
He also warned that divisions in the Security Council could send the wrong signal to Pyongyang.
Hill echoed that sentiment, saying it was necessary to send a "clear and unified message."
"They fired off a bunch of missiles and basically they're daring us to ... let them get away with it," he said.
Pyongyang ignited the furor July 5 by test-firing seven missiles, including a long-range Taepodong-2 potentially capable of hitting the United States. The weapons, which landed in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, created a major new challenge to international efforts to defuse the North's nuclear threat.
Hill's visit to Beijing was his second in a week, following stops in Tokyo and Seoul to coordinate a response to the missile tests.
The American envoy said he had no intention of meeting with a North Korean delegation that was in Beijing to mark the 45th anniversary of a friendship treaty between the two governments. He said talks with the North would only take place within the framework of the six-nation negotiations, which have been stalled since November.
"What we are not prepared to do ... is just allow the DPRK in effect to hijack the entire process," Hill said.