U.S. dismisses call for 6-way envoys` meeting, urges China to rein in N. Korea

Ref: The United States Monday dismissed China`s proposal to convene an emergency meeting of chief nuclear envoys to the six-party talks, instead urging China to step up pressure to stop North Korea`s provocations and its burgeoning nuclear arsenal.

“Six-party talks cannot substitute for action by North Korea to comply with its obligations and to cease its destabilizing actions on the Korean Peninsula,” said Robert Gibbs, White House spokesman. “We continue to urge China to use its influence and persuasion with the North Koreans to address their behavior and to address the serious problems that arose last week.”

Gibbs was referring to the North`s firing Tuesday of more than 100 artillery shells on South Korea`s Yeonpyeong Island near the disputed western sea border.

The shelling, the first of its kind on South Korean soil to target civilians since the end of the Korean War in 1953, killed two marines and as many civilians, and left dozens of others injured and scores of homes, other structures and timber demolished.

South Korea and the U.S. began four-day-long joint military drills in the Yellow Sea Sunday in a show of force against the North with the participation of the aircraft carrier the USS George Washington, despite China`s opposition to any military activity in waters off its coast.

The spokesman repeated Washington`s position that Pyongyang should show it is serious about ending its nuclear programs before the resumption of the talks, which involve the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

“I think there has to be a seriousness on the part of the North Koreans to get back to these talks,” Gibbs said. “These are not talks for talking`s sake. These have to be met with a seriousness of all those involved about making progress on an issue.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will reportedly meet with her South Korean and Japanese counterparts here next Monday to discuss China`s proposal to convene early next month a meeting of chief nuclear envoys to six-party talks on ending North Korea`s nuclear weapons programs.

The proposal was made by Wu Dawei, China`s chief nuclear envoy, in a rare news conference Sunday to discuss ways to ease tensions and resume the nuclear talks, as South Korea, the U.S. and Japan have stepped up pressure on China to do more to rein in North Korea.

Chinese State Councilor Dai flew to Seoul over the past weekend to meet with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.

The South Korean Foreign Ministry said Sunday that Beijing`s proposal “should be studied very carefully,” while President Lee Myung-bak stressed the need for Pyongyang to apologize for the sinking of a South Korean warship and the most recent shelling before engaging in any dialogue.

The nuclear talks have been stalled over the Cheonan`s sinking, which killed 46 sailors in the Yellow Sea in March. Seoul blames the sinking on North Korea. Pyongyang denies responsibility.

State Department spokesman Philip Crowley also called on North Korea to stop provocations before reopening the multilateral nuclear talks.

“What we are looking for is fundamental changes in North Korea`s behavior,” Crowley said. “If we see those changes, then we`ll react accordingly, but we want to see North Korea live up to its international obligations, cease its provocative behavior, take on a more constructive posture. Then we`re in a position to evaluate whether discussions can be fruitful.”

Ambassador Susan Rice, U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, joined forces with Gibbs in pressuring China.

“We`ve looked to China to play a responsible leadership role in working to maintain peace and security in that region,” Rice told reporters after attending a U.N. Security Council meeting in New York to discuss North Korea`s provocations. “It`s in China`s interest. It`s in the interest of the countries in the region, and we expect them to take steps that are consistent with their obligations.”

Rice denounced North Korea for building uranium enrichment facilities in violation of U.N. resolutions and a six-party deal signed in 2005. The agreement calls for the North`s nuclear dismantlement in return for economic aid, diplomatic recognition and the establishment of a permanent peace regime to replace the armistice that ended the 1950-53 Korean War.

“The U.S. strongly condemns these violations,” she said. “The Security Council will now need to study carefully the recent revelations and determine the appropriate way forward.”

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, the rotating president of the Security Council, said the council has yet to take action.

“The consultations continue, both here in New York and between capitals on that,” he said.

North Korea earlier this month revealed a nuclear enrichment program to fuel a light-water reactor being built at its nuclear facilities in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang. Suspicions persist that the North aims to make nuclear bombs with highly enriched uranium despite its claim that it intends to produce uranium enriched at low levels for power generation.

North Korea detonated plutonium-based nuclear devices twice, one each in 2006 and 2009.

Rice also condemned the North`s shelling, urging Pyongyang to “cease its irresponsible actions against its neighbors, to fully abide by the terms of the armistice, and to adhere to its international obligations.”

China, North Korea`s staunchest communist ally, has not yet blamed the North for last week`s shelling, the Cheonan`s sinking or the revelation of a uranium enrichment plant.

Beijing has also been lukewarm toward imposing sanctions on the North due to fears that instability would result in a massive influx of refugees across their shared border or a unified Korean Peninsula under South Korean and U.S. control.

Charles Armstrong, director of the Center for Korean Research at Columbia University, says China views the North Korea issue “in part as a proxy for its relations with the U.S.”

“Beijing has strongly criticized U.S.-South Korean joint naval exercises as an over-reaction to the Yeonpyeong clash, and seems to see them as a show of intimidation directed against China as much as a demonstration of deterrence against North Korea,” Armstrong said. “The current crisis is a test of U.S.-China relations and the relative strength of American and Chinese power in the East Asian region.”

Jamie Metzl, executive vice president of the Asia Society, was also pessimistic about China`s proposal for the nuclear envoys` meeting.

“Offering to broker no-fault negotiations hardly changes that posture and actively undermines the U.S./South Korean policy of not rewarding North Korea`s bad behavior,” he said. “Because the continuation of that policy, however, will likely only lead to greater North Korean provocations with no response from Beijing, Washington and Seoul may be pulled back into more rounds of fruitless negotiations with the North.”

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