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China mediates for North Korea

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GUANGZHOU, China — China stepped up its efforts to broker negotiations between the United States and North Korea on Thursday, dispatching a senior diplomat to Washington and urging both sides to revive a discarded 1994 accord on ending North Korea's nuclear program.

China's unusual public campaign suggested that it intends to play a more assertive mediating role in a new round of talks, which some experts say could be held as soon as August, probably in the Chinese capital of Beijing.

"China hopes to see the quick resumption of the peace talks," Kong Quan, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said at a news briefing on Thursday. "The purpose of the Beijing talks would be to seek a final settlement to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

Deputy Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo left Beijing on Thursday for Washington, where he is expected to meet with Bush administration officials to discuss terms for new talks. Dai had just returned from a four-day visit to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday that the United States was open to discussions with North Korea. He said he expected to see very soon the reopening of a diplomatic channel.

If talks did get under way, China indicated it would urge the United States and North Korea to return to the 1994 accord, known as the Agreed Framework, negotiated by the Clinton administration to try to stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons.

Under the accord, the United States and its allies agreed to provide fuel to North Korea and help it build two light-water nuclear reactors. North Korea agreed to shut down its existing nuclear reactor and abandon all plans to build atomic weapons.

After taking office in 2001, the Bush administration expressed skepticism about the agreement, which collapsed after North Korea acknowledged that it had been pursuing a nuclear arms program in violation of the 1994 accord. North Korea has since fired up its five-megawatt nuclear plant, pulled out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and expelled International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors.

Administration officials also said this week that North Korea boasted that it had begun reprocessing 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods to make plutonium. If that is true, the country could begin building a small arsenal of nuclear weapons within months.