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Monday, 2 December, 2002, 12:17 GMT
Russia and China urge Korea thaw
Jiang Zemin and Vladimir Putin
Both sides are keen to develop a strategic partnership
Russia and China have urged the United States and North Korea to normalise diplomatic relations, and called for the Korean peninsula to be kept free of nuclear weapons.

The call came in a joint declaration by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, and his Chinese counterpart, Jiang Zemin, who have been meeting in Beijing.

Hu Jintao
Putin has met Hu before
Relations between the US and North Korea have been put under extra strain since October following the reported admission by Pyongyang that it had a nuclear weapons programme.

Mr Putin is in China on the first stop of an Asia tour, during which he became the first major world leader to meet Hu Jintao, who recently took over as leader of China's Communist Party.

Nuclear fears

Mr Putin and Mr Jiang, both allies of North Korea, said a nuclear-free Korean peninsula was important for the security of the region and the rest of the world.

"The sides consider it important for the destiny of the world and security in north-east Asia to preserve the non-nuclear status of the Korean peninsula and the regime of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," the declaration said.

"And in this context, they stress the extreme importance of normalising relations between the United States and the DPRK (North Korea)..."

In October American officials reported that Pyongyang had admitted to having a secret nuclear weapons programme.

The alleged admission placed the Communist state in violation of a 1994 control under which Pyongyang froze its nuclear programme.

Following the revelation, the US and allies including South Korea and Japan decided to suspend oil shipments to North Korea.

Powerful axis

The visit to Beijing is Mr Putin's first stop on a tour that will also take him to Asia's other giant, India, on Tuesday.

Before the trip, Mr Putin spoke of his desire to build a powerful axis encompassing Russia, China and India.

President Putin and his wife at the Taj Mahal
Putin is preparing for a return trip to India

Mr Putin held a one-hour meeting with Mr Jiang, who speaks Russian.

He then held talks with Mr Hu, who is expected to become China's president in March.

Mr Putin told Mr Hu that he had helped to build "very solid and strong foundations" for the new bilateral relationship.

Mr Putin said on Monday that Russia wants to "work hard together" with the new generation of Chinese leaders, who were revealed at last month's party congress.

The BBC Beijing correspondent, Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, says Russia and China are keen to develop a strategic partnership to balance American influence worldwide, which was boosted after 11 September.

The two leaders also called for the Iraq crisis to be solved by political and diplomatic means, on the basis of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

The BBC's Beijing correspondent says both China and Russia are deeply concerned about the prospect of a US-led war against Iraq.

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
"Two giants, once again walking in locked step"
See also:

02 Dec 02 | Asia-Pacific
17 Nov 02 | Asia-Pacific
28 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
16 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
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