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Chinese Premier Calls for Dialogue Between U.S. and North Korea

BEIJING — China’s prime minister called Saturday for the United States and North Korea to engage in a “conscientious and constructive dialogue” aimed at reviving multilateral talks over the North’s nuclear weapons program.

North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-il, suggested in a meeting with China’s premier last week that his country would return to multilateral talks if the United States held bilateral talks and if those negotiations went well. The United States has said it would hold talks with North Korea, but only if they quickly lead to the resumption of multilateral deliberations aimed at resolving the nuclear issue.

The statement by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao seemed to indicate that China was ready to take a more active role in trying to end the standoff between the United States and North Korea, but it remains unclear if he won concessions from the North that will induce Washington to enter into bilateral talks.

Kurt M. Campbell, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, is expected to hold follow-up discussions next week in Beijing and Tokyo, the State Department said.

Since 2003, the multilateral or six-party talks — which include the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan — have been the main forum where the regional powers have tried to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions. But North Korea called the talks “dead” and insisted on a direct dialogue with Washington after the regional powers joined United Nations sanctions that were imposed on the North in the aftermath of its nuclear test in May.

Mr. Wen’s statement came at a news conference following a high-level meeting here at the Great Hall of the People, in which the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea pledged to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula and forge closer ties with one another.

The Chinese prime minister, who had just returned from the three-day visit to North Korea, said that its neighbor was eager to improve relations with the United States, Japan and South Korea, and that he had hopes for an early resumption of the six-party talks.

Standing alongside Japan’s new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, and the South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak, Mr. Wen pressed for something to be done quickly.

“If we miss this opportunity, then we may have to make even more efforts further down the road,” he said.

During his visit to North Korea, Mr. Wen agreed to ship economic aid and increase economic exchanges with the North, raising fears in South Korea and Japan that the package rewarded North Korea prematurely and would undermine United Nations sanctions.

At a separate meeting between Japan and South Korea last week in Seoul, the leaders of the two countries vowed to enforce United Nations sanctions against North Korea until they had clear evidence North Korea had abandoned its nuclear weapons ambitions.

But on Saturday, China, Japan and South Korea did not discuss their apparent differences in approach and emphasized that they would cooperate to resolve the nuclear issue.

By DAVID BARBOZA

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