The United States and China committed Saturday to a process aimed at ridding North Korea of its nuclear weapons, with the Obama administration gaining at least the rhetorical support of the only government that can exert significant influence over the reclusive North.
"We are able - the United States and China - to underscore our joint commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in a peaceful manner," US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Beijing before having dinner with State Councilor Yang Jiechi.
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Kerry and Yang said they'd seek a peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear standoff, which has only grown worse in recent months under its young leader Kim Jong Un.
"We agreed that this is of critical importance for the stability of the region and indeed for the world and indeed for all of our nonproliferation efforts," Kerry said.
Kerry with Yang Jiechi (Photo: AP)
"From this moment forward we are committed to taking actions in order to make good on that goal," he added. "And we are determined to make that goal a reality. China and the United States must together take steps in order to achieve the goal of a denuclearized Korean peninsula. And today we agreed that further discussions to bear down very quickly with great specificity on exactly how we will accomplish this goal."
Kerry said US Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and representatives from US intelligence agencies would travel to Beijing later this month. Kerry also is sending his deputy at the State Department, William Burns, as part of the effort to "make sure that this is not rhetoric but that it is real policy that is being implemented."
Yang said his government's position was clear.
"China is firmly committed to upholding peace and stability and advancing the denuclearization process on the Korean peninsula," he said through an interpreter.
"We maintain that the issue should be handled and resolved peacefully through dialogue," Yang said, adding that China would work with the United States and other nations to resume six-party talks with North Korea that fell apart for good four years ago.
Kerry said after the meeting that his talks with Xi were "constructive and forward-leaning", though he did not elaborate.
Earlier Saturday, it was reported that the United States and South Korea offered on Saturday to keep their end of a defunct 2005 aid agreement with North Korea, provided Pyongyang took take "meaningful steps" to denuclearize.
Kerry in S. Korea (Photo: Gettyimages)
In a joint statement released as US Secretary of State John Kerry wrapped up his first visit to Seoul, the two sides appeared to put the accent on diplomacy after weeks of threatening rhetoric from Pyongyang.
"North Korea must adhere to its international obligations and commitments or face further isolation," the statement said.
"We will continue to encourage North Korea to make the right choice. If North Korea does so, we are prepared to implement the commitments under the 2005 Six-Party Joint Statement," it added, referring to the aid-for-denuclearization agreement.
"But Pyongyang must prove its seriousness by taking meaningful steps to abide by its international obligations," it said.
Kerry with South Korean counterpart (Photo: AFP)
The United States and its allies believe the North violated the 2005 deal by conducting a nuclear test in 2006 and pursuing a uranium enrichment program that would give it a second path to a nuclear weapon in addition to its plutonium-based program.
At a news conference with South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se on Friday, Kerry said the United States wanted to resume talks about North Korea's earlier pledges to halt its nuclear program.
But he also stressed that Washington would defend its allies in the region if necessary and pointedly said that Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, "needs to understand, as I think he probably does, what the outcome of a conflict would be."
Beijing has been reluctant to apply pressure on Pyongyang, fearing the instability that could result if the North were to implode and send floods of refugees into China, and has looked askance at US military drills in South Korea.
China's official Xinhua news agency said in a commentary that Washington had itself been "fanning the flames" on the Korean peninsula with its shows of force.
"It keeps sending more fighters, bombers and missile-defense ships to the waters of East Asia and carrying out massive military drills with Asian allies in a dramatic display of preemptive power," it said.
However, US officials believe China's rhetoric on North Korea has begun to shift, pointing to a recent speech by China's Xi in which - without referring explicitly to Pyongyang - he said no country "should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gain".
Kerry told reporters in Seoul that if North Korea's 30-year-old leader went ahead with the launch of a medium-range missile, he would be making "a huge mistake."
At a news conference in Seoul on Friday and in a US-South Korean joint statement issued on Saturday, Kerry signaled the US preference for diplomacy to end the tension, but stressed North Korea must take "meaningful" steps on denuclearization.
AP and Reuters contributed to this report
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