updated 6/15/2004 3:43:03 PM ET 2004-06-15T19:43:03

China said Tuesday that a new round of six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear program will be held in Beijing on June 23-26.

“China hopes that the parties concerned will show their utmost sincerity and flexibility for cooperation ... so as to make headway in the third round of talks,” said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said at a briefing.

Lower-level meetings will be held next Monday and Tuesday to set the agenda for the talks, she said.

The standoff with Pyongyang began in October 2002, when the United States said North Korea admitted operating a nuclear weapons program in violation of a 1994 agreement.

Two previous rounds of discussions involving China, the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia ended without settlement.

Zhang said that the new talks would be a chance for the parties “to build on consensus achieved before and go deeper into the issues.”

The contentious issue of whether North Korea has a secret uranium-based project would be discussed, she said.

North Korea denies U.S. claims that Pakistan provided it with uranium enrichment technology. It has said it has only one nuclear weapons program based on plutonium.

Tough rhetoric
Washington has demanded a “complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling” of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons facilities.

North Korea says it is willing to freeze its nuclear program in return for economic aid and will only dismantle it if the United States promises not to invade.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher stressed that the talks’ aim “is to find a diplomatic resolution to the threat that’s posed by North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

“That’s a threat to the security and stability in Northeast Asia and to global nonproliferation efforts,” he said.

The North staked out its negotiating position with tough rhetoric Tuesday — a common maneuver for the isolated Stalinist regime — saying that the talks will be fruitless if Washington insists on a complete dismantling of the North’s nuclear program.

Such a demand “can be forced on a defeated country only,” North Korea said on its official KCNA news agency.

Zhang also said reports that Beijing was sending nuclear technology to Iran in exchange for fuel and allowing North Korea to ship missiles and other weapons through China were untrue and “full of Cold War mentality.”

The reports on Beijing’s dealings with Iran and North Korea were based on findings by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which advises the U.S. Congress.

The commission accused China of continuing to help “weapons of mass destruction-related programs in countries of concern ... despite repeated promises to end such activities and the repeated imposition of U.S. sanctions,” the reports said.

The commission also questioned the effectiveness of China-U.S. relations.

Zhang, who said she hadn’t seen the news reports, nevertheless stressed that “China has always attached great importance to the issue and firmly opposes the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”

In recent years, China has enacted “comprehensive laws and regulations” controlling the export of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, Zhang said.

“We have taken effective measures,” she said. “If we find that any departments or organizations violated those laws and regulations, China’s government will punish them in accordance to law.”

“China-U.S. relations have witnessed great improvement and U.S. leaders have stressed the importance of developing China-U.S. relations on many occasions,” Zhang said. “I hope people drafting that report will make clear the U.S. government’s position on developing relations with China.”

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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