updated 10/24/2006 4:51:14 AM ET 2006-10-24T08:51:14

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il did not apologize for his regime’s nuclear test when a special envoy from China’s president visited Pyongyang last week, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tuesday.

South Korean news reports said last week that Kim had expressed regret for the Oct. 9 test during a visit by State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan, who delivered a personal message and a gift from Chinese President Hu Jintao.

“These reports are certainly not accurate,” ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said at a regular press briefing. “We haven’t heard any information that Kim Jong Il apologized for the test.”

Liu also said that the North Koreans told Tang’s delegation that “it did not have a plan to carry out a second test.”

“But if it faces pressure, North Korea reserves the right to take further actions,” Liu said, citing Tang.

Earlier doubt
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had earlier cast doubt on the reports. She told reporters that Tang had not mentioned the apology or no-test promise when she and Tang met in Beijing on Friday, a day after Tang met Kim in Pyongyang.

Liu’s comments appeared to be a warning that if goaded by international weapons and financial sanctions imposed in punishment for its test, North Korea could again defy international warnings with a second nuclear test.

In a sign China took Kim’s threat seriously, Liu also warned against expanding the sanctions.

“All parties should not willfully interpret or expand the sanctions,” he said.

China, which has traditionally opposed sanctions and advocated dialogue, supported the U.N. Security Council action against North Korea and condemned the North’s test in unusually forceful language.

But Beijing also fears any sanctions that could squeeze impoverished North Korea so tightly that it collapses, causing instability on its borders and a potential wave of refugees.

“Sanctions are not the end. They should serve the goal of peacefully settling the crisis through dialogue and consultation,” Liu said.

He added that during Tang’s visit, North Korea had restated that it was willing to return to six-party talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear program.

The talks, which also group the United States, South Korea, Japan and Russia, have been stalled for nearly a year.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.


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