updated 9/29/2004 12:36:39 AM ET 2004-09-29T04:36:39

China’s foreign minister on Tuesday blamed the “mutual lack of trust” between the United States and North Korea for the impasse in six-nation talks on resolving the dispute over Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

In an interview with news agencies at China’s U.N. mission, Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said there had been “important progress” in three previous rounds of talks in Beijing involving the United States, the two Koreas, Russia, China and Japan.

A fourth round of talks had been scheduled to take place by the end of September, but North Korea pulled back after revelations about South Korean experiments with nuclear weapons technology.

South Korea disclosed recently that its scientists conducted a plutonium-based nuclear experiment more than 20 years ago and a uranium-enrichment experiment in 2000.

“There have been new complicating factors and difficulties. The main difficulty is the exceptional mutual lack of trust between North Korea and the United States,” Li said. “The U.S. side has been saying North Korea probably is deceiving the United States while the North Korean side is saying the same” about the United States.

Li urged both countries “to work together still harder” to build trust.

“We hope the fourth round of six-party talks can be held, or prior to that we can have the working group meeting first,” he said.

But he refused to say when the working group might meet saying it was up to the key parties.

North Korea’s No. 2 leader Kim Yong Nam and other senior leaders from Pyongyang will visit China in mid-October, Japanese media reported Tuesday, and the six-party talks are certain to be on the agenda.

North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Choe Su Hon blamed the United States on Monday for intensifying threats to attack the communist nation and destroying the basis for negotiations on Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

But he told the General Assembly that North Korea is still ready to dismantle its nuclear program if Washington abandons its “hostile policy” and is prepared to coexist peacefully.

At the moment, however, he said “the ever intensifying U.S. hostile policy and the clandestine nuclear-related experiments recently revealed in South Korea are constituting big stumbling blocks” and make it impossible for North Korea to participate in the continuation of the six-nation talks.

Choe said North Korea has turned plutonium from 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods into weapons to serve as a deterrent against a possible nuclear strike by the United States. South Korea has said this could make about eight nuclear bombs, which would be in addition to the one or two the North was previously believed to possess.

Li said China opposed research, development and production of nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula and said he hadn’t heard about Choe’s statement.

“The official news I’ve got from the DPRK side seems not to be exactly the same as what you have heard about,” the Chinese minister said, using the initials of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Li also said he had no information on a possible North Korean missile test.

The nuclear-armed planetOn another issue, Li also was asked if he supported Japan’s bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

The foreign minister spoke at length about the imbalance between rich and poor countries on the powerful 15-member body, implying that he supported the addition of countries from the developing world before other large industrial countries would be considered.

He said that richer developed nations account for less than one-sixth of the 191 U.N. member states yet next year they will hold as many as seven seats on the Security Council.

Li didn’t single out any countries but said China, which is a permanent Security Council member, hopes to see “more balance, more democratic” representation.

Li did not directly answer a question about whether China believed that Iran was trying to develop nuclear weapons and should face U.N. sanctions.

China “hopes to see progress in Iran’s cooperation” with the International Atomic Energy Agency and is looking for a peaceful solution, Li said, suggesting that diplomacy should be tried before sanctions.

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