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Page last updated at 05:03 GMT, Saturday, 10 October 2009 06:03 UK

Nations urge early N Korea talks

Japan's Yukio Hatoyama (L) and South Korea's Lee Myung-bak (R) - 9 October 2009
South Korea and Japan have agreed an aid proposal for North Korea

Leaders of China, South Korea and Japan have urged an early resumption of talks on North Korea's nuclear programme.

During talks in Beijing, the three leaders said they were committed to a denuclearised Korean peninsula.

Tokyo and Seoul have been pushing a policy of withholding aid packages until after the North has dismantled its nuclear weapons programme.

But correspondents say that winning the support of China - a key ally of Pyongyang - may not be easy.

North Korea has already indicated that it may return to multi-party talks on the nuclear issue but has also said it wants direct negotiations with the US first.

In a joint statement issued after their morning summit in Beijing, the leaders said: "We will remain committed to dialogue and consultation and continue to work through peaceful means to pursue the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.

"We will make joint efforts with other parties for an early resumption of the six-party talks, so as to safeguard peace and stability in north-east Asia."

The six-party talks involve the two Koreas, China, the US, Russia and Japan.

The leaders in Beijing also said that they would work closely together to make the upcoming global climate change talks in Denmark a success.

Improved ties

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, who recently visited North Korea, said the country appeared to be open to discussions and it was time to "seize the opportunity" to make progress.

"North Korea does not only hope to improve relations with the United States, it also hopes to do so with South Korea and Japan," he said.

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao (C) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (R) in Pyongyang (4 October 2009)
Wen Jiabao was to brief the other leaders on his talks with Kim Jong-il

"This is the deepest impression I got from my visit," he said.

On Monday, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was reported to have told Mr Wen he was "willing to attend multilateral talks, including the six-party talks".

But Mr Kim said doing so was dependent on North Korea first holding bilateral talks with the US, a request Washington has not confirmed it will grant.

The US has said it is willing to engage directly with North Korea, but only as part of a return to the six-party forum. Washington wants the North's complete denuclearisation.

Mr Wen said he supported the idea of direct US-North Korea talks.

But South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak said that while he also welcomed the idea, the "final purpose of any talks between South and North Korea should be denuclearisation of North Korea".

Conditions

On Friday, Mr Lee and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said sanctions against North Korea should remain in place until it began dismantling its nuclear programme.

But Mr Lee told reporters the countries had agreed on the "need for a fundamental and comprehensive solution" to the nuclear issue.

The two leaders agreed to offer North Korea a one-off package of aid in exchange for denuclearisation, instead of the step-by-step measures that have been followed since the talks began in 2003.

As North Korea's biggest trading partner, China holds the greatest sway over the secretive Pyongyang regime.

The BBC's Michael Bristow in Beijing says South Korea and Japan might find it tough to win China's public support for their latest proposals as Beijing sees North Korea as a close ally.

But there was a sense of optimism following Saturday's meeting, which was a rare chance for the three regional powers to show unity, our correspondent says.

Pyongyang pulled out of the six party talks in April this year and tensions in the region rose after it launched a series of missiles and conducted an underground nuclear test - drawing UN sanctions in response.

The country had previously said it would never re-engage with the multilateral talks.



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