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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hopes on China to Bring Pyongyang to the Table

SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea and the United States are hoping China can bring unruly ally North Korea back to stalled talks on dismantling its nuclear weapons programs, Seoul's foreign minister said.

Minister Ban Ki-moon spoke as Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing assured U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that Beijing would push Pyongyang to end its boycott of six-party talks on the crisis as soon as possible.

The two Koreas exchanged sharp words this weekend over naval activities in the Yellow Sea off their western coasts, and Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun reported that the United States, Russia, China, South Korea and Japan could go ahead with the talks, even if North Korea did not attend.

"An idea to convene talks among the five countries excluding North Korea has emerged within the U.S. government," it said. "The aim is to consider plans to bring North Korea back to the six-country talks and to apply pressure on North Korea by showing unity among the five countries."

There was no immediate comment on the report from U.S. or Japanese officials.

North Korea declared for the first time Thursday that it possessed nuclear weapons, adding that it was pulling out of the multilateral talks in the face of what it called U.S. hostility.

The move was a major challenge to South Korea, the United States, and China, which has played a lead role over several years in efforts to disarm its isolated Stalinist neighbor.

"South Korea and the United States exchanged the view that China should strengthen the effort to convince the North, and we are continuing diplomatic efforts in that direction," Foreign Minister Ban was quoted as saying Sunday.

Ban, who is visiting Washington, is due to meet Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley on Monday.

China -- North Korea's sole key ally -- is believed to be upset with Pyongyang but has pledged to continue its key role in mediating in the crisis.

"China will stay in touch with all relevant parties and strive to make the situation develop in a positive direction so that the six-party talks could be resumed as soon as possible," Foreign Minister Li was quoted as telling Rice by telephone.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted Foreign Minister Ban as saying that it was impossible at present to definitively assess the North's nuclear capabilities, despite Pyongyang's boast that it now had atomic arms.

North Korea is believed to have at least one or two nuclear weapons and possibly more than eight.

Analysts have said China's reaction to Pyongyang's latest bombshell would be two-pronged, combining friendly but firm public diplomacy with behind-the-scenes pressure. China provides 70 percent of the North's food and fuel aid.

Meanwhile, Seoul denied Sunday an accusation from Pyongyang that a South Korean warship had violated its waters.