China: Potential missile launch highlights need for N. Korea talks

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BEIJING -- China's top general said yesterday that a fourth North Korean nuclear weapons test is a possibility that underscores the need for fresh talks between Pyongyang and other regional parties.

Chief of the General Staff Gen. Fang Fenghui said Beijing firmly opposes the North's nuclear weapons program and wants to work with others on negotiations to end it. He said Beijing's preference is for a return to long-stalled disarmament talks involving the two Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and the United States.

"We ask all sides to work actively to work on the North Koreans to stop nuclear tests and stop producing nuclear weapons," Fang told reporters. "We believe that dialogue should be the right solution."

His comments followed a meeting with Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose first visit to China in that position comes amid heightened tensions.

North Korea has ratcheted up tension on the divided peninsula in recent weeks, threatening to attack the United States and South Korea over recent military drills and sanctions imposed as punishment for its third nuclear test in February. Pyongyang calls the annual drills a rehearsal for invasion. South Korean officials have said the North is poised to test-fire a medium-range missile capable of reaching the American territory of Guam.

China is North Korea's most important diplomatic ally and main trading partner, and provides a key source of food and fuel aid. Yet, while Beijing signed on to tougher UN sanctions following the February test, it says it has limited influence over Pyongyang and Fang declined to say whether Beijing would adopt tougher measures to pressure the North into reducing tensions.

In Washington, meanwhile, Robert King, a human rights envoy, said the United States will press China over its forcible repatriation of refugees to North Korea. His remarks came in a meeting in Washington with China's envoy on Korean affairs, Wu Dawei.

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