China, North Korea discuss how to restart nuclear talks: Beijing

BEIJING (AFP) - A key North Korean diplomat and China's foreign minister met on Friday, the Chinese government said, with the pair discussing how to restart long-stalled international talks on ending Pyongyang's nuclear programme.

Mr Kim Kye-Gwan, North Korea's first vice-foreign minister and veteran nuclear negotiator, met Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi, China's foreign ministry said in a statement on its website.

"Both sides exchanged thorough and candid opinions about the current situation on the Korean peninsula, how to restart the six-party talks process and other issues," the statement said.

Mr Wang, who became China's foreign minister in March, is a former envoy to the North Korean nuclear talks. The ministry published a photo of the two men in jackets and white shirts with no neckties.

A smiling Mr Kim wore a badge with images of Kim Il-Sung, North Korea's late founder, and his son and successor Kim Jong-Il, who died in late 2011. Kim Jong-Il's son, Mr Kim Jong-Un, replaced his father to carry the family dynasty into a third generation.

China, which has faced US pressure to rein in the North, quoted Mr Kim Kye-Gwan on Wednesday as saying that Pyongyang was willing to engage in any form of dialogue to resolve the nuclear issue peacefully, including the six-party talks.

That marked the second time in a less than a month that a Pyongyang official has told Beijing it is ready for dialogue within the forum that began in 2003 but has been dormant since late 2008 as Pyongyang expanded its nuclear and missile activity.

Tensions over the nuclear programme soared in February after Pyongyang carried out its third underground atomic test blast since 2006, angering the international community and triggering tightened UN sanctions supported by China.

Tempers have cooled in recent months, however, amid expectations Pyongyang may be moving towards dialogue rather than confrontation.

But the United States, South Korea and Japan - allies who form one half of the six-way forum along with China, Russia and North Korea - insist that Pyongyang live up to earlier promises.

They issued a statement on Wednesday saying they "will judge (North Korea) by its actions, not its words".

The statement, which came after their envoys on North Korea met in Washington, called for "meaningful steps on denuclearisation" by Pyongyang.