China, North Korea meet amid stalled disarmament talks

The foreign ministers of China and North Korea held talks in Beijing Friday amid a lack of progress in international efforts to persuade Kim Jong Un’s regime to halt its nuclear weapons program.

Details of the discussions Ri Yong Ho and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi were not immediately released.

China is North Korea’s most important ally, but has agreed to increasingly strict United Nations economic sanctions over Pyongyang’s drive to develop nuclear weapons and the ballistic missiles to deliver them.

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 initial optimism generated by Kim and Trump’s June summit meeting in Singapore, 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.

China, which fought on North Korea’s behalf in the 1950-53 Korean War, has suggested a more staggered approach, including a suspension of large-scale South Korean and U.S. wargames on the peninsula.

In addition to sanctions relief, North Korea wants a declaration on a formal close to the war, which ended with a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, and other reciprocal measures from the United States. Pyongyang has argued that it has taken some steps, like dismantling its nuclear testing facility and releasing American detainees.

While traditionally close ties between Beijing and Pyongyang have frayed somewhat, Xi hosted Kim for three summits in China this year, both before and after his Singapore meeting with Trump.

However, Xi did not attend celebrations of the 70th anniversary of North Korea’s founding in September, seen as a sign that Beijing expected more concrete steps by Kim toward denuclearization.

Ri’s visit also comes amid intense speculation over the possibility that Kim will visit South Korea this month, the first such trip by a North Korean leader since the war.

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