U.S. warns China on North Korea; crisis talks in days

The United States warned China that if it didn’t rein in its ally North Korea it would redeploy forces in Asia, the New York Times reported on Friday, as Pyongyang bowed to pressure and agreed to crisis talks.

The paper quoted a senior administration official as saying U.S. President Barack Obama’s warning had persuaded China — the North’s main diplomatic and economic backer — to take a harder line toward Pyongyang, and opened the door to a resumption of inter-Korean talks.

South Korea agreed on Thursday to a North Korean offer of high-level military talks, a major breakthrough in the crisis on the peninsula. Such talks could clear the way for the resumption of long-stalled aid-for-disarmament negotiations with the North.

The New York Times said Obama warned his Chinese counterpart that if Beijing did not step up pressure on North Korea, Washington would redeploy its forces in Asia to protect itself from a potential North Korean strike on U.S. soil.

Obama first made the warning in a phone call to Hu last month, and repeated it over a private dinner at the White House on Tuesday, the official said.

Last week, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned that Pyongyang was becoming a direct threat to the United States and could develop inter-continental ballistic missiles within five years.

South Korea said that it had agreed to hold high-level military talks with the North, the first such contact since a deadly artillery attack on the South in November sharply raised tensions on the divided peninsula.

Pyongyang bowed to Seoul’s demands for talks specifically addressing that attack and the sinking South Korean warship last March, but made no mention of talks on denuclearization — the key component of six-party talks.

Obama and Hu have jointly expressed concern about North Korea’s nuclear program.

Washington and Beijing have argued that North-South dialogue is a prerequisite to a resumption of six-party talks involving the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.

In 2009, Pyongyang walked out of the aid-for-disarmament talks, under which it previously agreed to abandon its nuclear programs, pronouncing them dead.

On Friday, the North proposed preparatory inter-Korean talks in late January, saying it was in a firm position to resolve all military issues, its state media reported.

In a letter sent to the South’s defense ministry, Pyongyang also proposed that high-level military talks take place in early February, KCNA news agency reported.