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Rice dubious over nuke test pledge

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MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said that a high-ranking Chinese envoy, who met earlier with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, did not say that Pyongyang would refrain from conducting further nuclear tests.

"I don't know whether Kim Jong Il said any such thing referring to whether he regretted the test or not," Rice told reporters, referring to an earlier report from South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

According to the report, Kim said "his country had no plan to conduct an additional nuclear test."

Yonhap attributed the information to an informed diplomatic source in Beijing, China. The news agency said Kim passed along the promise during a meeting with Chinese envoy Tang Jiaxuan.

China holds some political sway with North Korea, and provides the nation with most of its food and fuel.

North Korea's surprise underground nuclear test on October 9 appeared to confirm long-held fears that the communist country was developing an atomic weapons program.

Pyongyang insisted it is attempting to acquire nuclear capabilities for peaceful means, but the test prompted the United Nations to pass Resolution 1718, authorizing sanctions against the communist government.

Russia said it would like to see the resolution enforced, a State Department official.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made the comments at a business lunch in Moscow with Rice, who is at the last stop of her trip to four nations to encourage implementation of U.N. Resolution 1718, the official said.

However, CNN's Matthew Chance said that the Russian government was unlikely to have major impact on Pyongyang's policies.

"There is recognition in Washington that Moscow's leverage with North Korea is somewhat limited," he said.

Russia, along with South Korea, the United States, China and Japan was involved in multi-nation talks with the North, which collapsed last year after restrictions from Washington were imposed on Pyongyang's external financing.

China has said that Pyongyang may be willing to reenter the talks, but Rice said she had yet to receive any offer.

"We did not receive a proposal as such that the North Koreans will return to the talks," Rice told CNN. "But, of course, they can come back to the talks at any time without conditions."

Referring to the talks between the North Koreans and Tang Jiaxuan, Rice said, "The Chinese obviously wanted to send a message to the North that they had engaged in very serious behavior that China did not support.

"They also wanted very much to try and get a return to the diplomatic path and the six-party talks," Rice said.

She said Tang reported that he valued the chance to air China's positions with North Korean leaders.

"We hope all relevant parties can maintain cool-headedness, adopt a prudent and responsible attitude and adhere to peaceful dialogue as the main approach," Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said in a joint Beijing news conference with Rice.

"We are willing to strengthen consultations and cooperation with all parties to break the stalemate and restart the six-party talks as soon as possible," he added.

Rice said she and Li spoke Friday about leaving open "a path to negotiation through the six-party talks," but only if Pyongyang returns to the talks "without condition."

North Korea previously has declined returning to multilateral negotiations on its nuclear weapons program as long as financial sanctions are imposed.

However, Kim reportedly told a Chinese envoy that "if the United States made some concessions, then we would make some concessions as well, whether they be in the form of bilateral talks or in the form of the six-party talks," according to South Korean newspaper Chosun Ilbo.

Asked to respond to the newspaper report, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said they were not aware of any such comments by Kim, but Li was overheard telling Rice that Tang's trip "was not in vain."

South Korean military soldiers take part in military exercises on Friday.


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