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North Korean sends top diplomat to key ally China

December 6, 2018
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North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, center, arrives at the Beijing International airport in Beijing Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018. Ri arrived in key ally China for talks that come amid stalled efforts to persuade Pyongyang to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs. Ri was scheduled to meet Friday with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. (Madoka Ikegami/Kyodo News via AP)

BEIJING (AP) — North Korea’s foreign minister arrived in key ally China on Thursday for talks amid stalled efforts to persuade his government to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs.

Ri Yong Ho is to meet Friday with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, according to China’s foreign ministry.

China is North Korea’s most important economic and political partner, but has agreed to United Nations economic sanctions aimed at pressuring leader Kim Jong Un to abandon his drive to develop nuclear weapons and the ballistic missiles to deliver them.

Kim sharply raised tensions with nuclear and missile tests last year, but suddenly reached out to South Korea and the United States this year with a vague nuclear disarmament pledge. North Korea is now seeking security guarantees from the U.S. and relief from the international sanctions.

Ri is also expected to be briefed on discussions last week between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump, who recently said his next meeting with Kim would likely happen in January or February.

Despite the initial optimism generated by Kim and Trump’s June summit meeting in Singapore, little has transpired since then.

At the time, some experts said the United States could soon accept a North Korean request for a joint declaration of the end of the 1950-53 Korean War as part of security assurances to the North. But diplomacy has since come to a halt amid disputes over a U.S. demand that North Korea first produce a full inventory of its nuclear weapons and take other denuclearization steps before winning significant outside rewards.

North Korea wants sanctions relief, the end-of-war declaration and other reciprocal measures from the United States, arguing it has taken some steps, like dismantling its nuclear testing facility and releasing American detainees.

China fought on North Korea’s behalf during the Korean War, and while ties have grown frosty at times, Xi hosted Kim for three summits in China this year, both before and after Kim’s meeting with Trump.

However, Xi did not attend celebrations of the 70th anniversary of North Korea’s founding in September in what was seen as an indication that Beijing expected further actions from Kim, including concrete progress toward denuclearization.

Ri’s visit also comes amid intense speculation over the possibility that Kim will visit South Korea this month.

No North Korean leader has traveled to South Korea since fighting stopped in the Korean War, which killed millions. There have been five summit meetings between the leaders of the Koreas, three of them between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, but they all happened either in Pyongyang, North Korea’s capital, or the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom.

Fighting in the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.

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