North Korea Mocks Calls to Halt Nuclear Tests as US and China Hold Urgent Talks

North Korea yesterday signalled that it would ignore the international community's demands to halt any further nuclear tests, as US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held crisis talks with Asian allies to lay down a clear and unanimous way forward.

|PIC1|The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has held urgent talks with the Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, amid rumours of a second nuclear test soon to take place in North Korea.

Reports state that Rice spoke about the implementation of recently imposed UN sanctions against North Korea, following the nuclear test on 9 October. She described the talks as "very fruitful".

Thursday also saw a senior Chinese envoy hold talks in Pyongyang with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. The former Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, handed Kim a personal message from Chinese President Hu Jintao.

China, well-known as North Korea's closest ally and main trade partner, is thought to have the greatest influence over the communist state, and recently backed a resolution in the UN Security Council that imposed the sanctions against North Korea.

Speaking about her talks with the Chinese foreign minister, Rice said, "We talked about the importance of the full implementation of (Resolution) 1718 so we can make certain there is not a transit and trade in illegal materials, dangerous illegal materials, concerning North Korea."

Li responded by telling the news conference that China would "continue to implement relevant international obligations", although he also urged a return to talks.

"We hope all relevant parties will maintain cool headedness, adopt a responsible approach and adhere to peaceful dialogue as the main approach," he said.

Rice arrived from South Korea for the third leg of a four-nation tour in the East Asian region, and she is set to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao later in the day. She is scheduled to travel to Russia on Saturday.

Recently in South Korea, Rice diffused rumours of disagreements over enforcing the sanctions, saying Washington was not seeking "quarantine or a blockade" of North Korea.

"We want to leave open the path of negotiation. We don't want the situation to escalate," Rice commented.

However, on Thursday the deputy head of North Korea's foreign ministry, Li Gun, speaking on ABC TV in the US, said a second test would be "natural" and that the US should not be surprised if one were carried out.

US intelligence has said that satellite images have shown increased activity at a suspected North Korean test site. Following those reports both the US and South Korean officials have warned of "grave consequences" should a second test take place.

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