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North Korea asks China to arrange visit by US's Rice: report

AFP | May 17, 2005

North Korea has asked China to arrange a visit by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to Pyongyang in a bid to reach a breakthrough on the nuclear crisis, a Japanese daily said Tuesday.

North Korea is reluctant to return to six-nation talks on its nuclear program but told China, its main ally, that it wanted the high-level visit to find a way out of the growing standoff, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun said.

"Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing conveyed the North's request to Rice when the two spoke over the phone last Friday," the business daily said, citing multiple diplomatic sources.

But the report doubted the United States would seriously consider the request by the North unless Pyongyang makes "significant concessions" on the nuclear issue.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said Tuesday that Tokyo contacted Washington to check the report and the US State Department denied it.

"They told us there was no such fact," Hosoda, Japan's government spokesman, told a news conference.

"Japan believes the United States and North Korea should hold discussions within the framework of the six-way talks," he said.

China also denied the story.

"This report is full of imagination but groundless in terms of fact," foreign ministry spokesman Kong Quan told a regular briefing.

The business daily, however, said the North's request was "an indication that the increasingly beleaguered nation wants to find peaceful resolutions to the current diplomatic impasse."

In February, North Korea said it had nuclear weapons to defend itself and last week announced it had unloaded 8,000 spent fuel rods in a step to building more nuclear weapons amid reports it was preparing to conduct a nuclear test.

Six-way talks among the the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States have seen little progress since the crisis erupted in October 2002 with dialogue suspended altogether for nearly a year.

In 2000, then US secretary of state Madeleine Albright visited Pyongyang toward the end of Bill Clinton's presidency, a trip that was lambasted by the conservatives in George W. Bush's administration which took office in 2001.

The Bush administration believes North Korea has reneged on promises made to the Clinton administration to give up its nuclear program.

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