BEIJING – U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and China's foreign minister on Friday called for resumed talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear program and appealed to the North for restraint amid fears it might conduct a second nuclear test.
Rice and Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said they agreed on enforcing U.N. sanctions imposed for the North's Oct. 9 nuclear test. But they gave no indication they agreed on tougher measures. China has been reluctant to push its isolated ally too hard for fear it might collapse.
"We hope all relevant parties will maintain coolheadedness, adopt a responsible approach and adhere to peaceful dialogue as the main approach," Li said at a joint appearance before reporters.
Rice flew to Beijing after visiting Tokyo and Seoul on a regional tour to lobby for support in enforcing U.N. sanctions imposed on the North last week. She said she and Li discussed the importance of enforcing the sanctions to prevent "trade in illegal materials, dangerous materials."
"We also talked about the importance of leaving open a path to negotiations through the six-party talks," Rice said. The talks, which include the United States, the two Koreas, host China, Japan and Russia, have been stalled since late 2005.
Rice's conciliatory tone appeared to be aimed at keeping Beijing's cooperation, which is key to enforcing any sanctions.
Li assured Rice that Beijing would carry out its obligations.
"China has an excellent track record in playing a constructive role in the international community and in honoring all of our commitments," he said.
Hopes were high that Beijing might discourage Pyongyang from conducting a new test after a Chinese envoy gave North Korean leader Kim Jong il a personal message from Chinese president Hu Jintao on Thursday.
Rice and Li didn't mention that visit, and Beijing has not released details of Hu's message or Kim's response.
On Friday, a South Korean newspaper reported that Kim told the Chinese envoy, Tang Jiaxuan, the North would return to nuclear talks if Washington drops financial sanctions.
"If the U.S. makes a concession to some degree, we will also make a concession to some degree, whether it be bilateral talks or six-party talks," Kim was quoted as saying by the Chosun Ilbo, which cited diplomatic sources in China.
The North has boycotted the talks since the United States imposed sanctions last year on North Korean companies accused of counterfeiting American currency and money-laundering and on a bank in the Chinese territory of Macau that dealt with them.
Kim also apologized for the nuclear test to the Chinese envoy, the newspaper reported.
Tang's delegation included Beijing's nuclear envoy Wu Dawei and Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo, according to Liu.
Also Friday, employees of Chinese banks said they have suspended financial transactions to North Korea under orders from Beijing. China is the North's main trading partner, and the step could be a serious blow to its frail economy.
In Seoul, Rice said it was up to each country to decide how to comply with the U.N. sanctions approved after the Oct. 9 test. China and South Korea have balked at inspecting cargo on ships sailing to and from the North. Beijing said that could unnecessarily provoke Pyongyang.
The North says it needs nuclear weapons to counter U.S. aggression.
The United States has repeatedly said it does not intend to attack the North.
The two Koreas are technically at war, since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a cease-fire.
The North's test challenges U.S.-South Korean ties, long strained by differences about how to deal with Pyongyang. The U.S. wants a tougher line, while Seoul is reluctant to inflame tensions.
Rice has reassured Seoul that the U.S. will defend the country if the North attacks. She brought a similar message to Japan, her first stop on a four-day trip devoted mostly to talks on the nuclear crisis.