China's president has urged North Korea to restart stalled negotiations on dismantling its nuclear programme saying he hoped all sides would work to "resolve their differences", Chinese state-run media has said.
In a meeting in Beijing with Kim Yong-il, the North Korean prime minister, Hu Jintao said China was willing to step up efforts to resume the six-nation talks, the official Xinhua news agency said.
"We hope that relevant parties can consider the whole situation, appropriately resolve their differences and promote the progress of the six-party talks," Hu was quoted as saying on Thursday.
The six party process, hosted by China and which started in 2003, brings together representatives from North and South Korea, Japan, Russia, the US and China.
In August North Korea all but froze work on disabling its nuclear programme after disagreeing with the US on how to verify its past nuclear activities.
A round of talks in Beijing in December failed to resolve the dispute.
China is North Korea's biggest international benefactor and its closest ally, and regional powers have been looking to Beijing to calm tensions in the region.
|North Korea says it has a right to
its own space programme
Qin Gang, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, did not indicate what steps China would take but said on Thursday said that Beijing "sincerely hopes" the next round of talks can be held as soon as possible.
He said the timing would depend on whether the delegations can agree on when to meet and "whether the conditions are right".
At an earlier meeting Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, told Kim that China wants to "actively push forward" the deadlocked negotiations involving the two Koreas, China, US, Russia and Japan, state media said.
Kim, who is no relation to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, has made no public comment during his visit to the Chinese capital.
His visit comes amid escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula, with North Korea preparing for what it says is the launch of an experimental communications satellite.
Pyongyang on Wednesday reasserted its right to launch a satellite, saying that Russia, Iran, India and many other countries have been pursuing peaceful space programmes.
But the launch, widely believed to be a cover for a ballistic missile test, has sparked international concern.
Move to intercept
On Thursday neighbouring Japan announced that it was planning to move Patriot interceptor missiles to its northern coast in case the North's planned rocket launch fails.
Yasukazu Hamada, the Japanese defence minister, said some of the six batteries of PAC-3 missiles, now located in and around Tokyo, may be shifted to intercept fragments that might fall in Japanese territory.
"We're considering various measures, including that," Hamada told reporters.
North Korea has announced plans to launch the rocket between April 4 and 8, and has designated the waters off Japan's Akita and Iwate prefectures as a risk zone for falling debris.
It indicated that the launch would take an easterly direction, taking the rocket over Japan and the Pacific Ocean.
"We will make a comprehensive decision, including the possibility of imposing tougher sanctions"
Taro Aso, Japan PM
Underscoring its concern Taro Aso, the Japanese prime minister, has warned he will push for fresh international sanctions against North Korea if it proceeds with the rocket launch, regardless of its payload.
"We will make a comprehensive decision, including the possibility of imposing tougher sanctions," he told a parliamentary committee.
Existing UN sanctions implemented in 2006 bar North Korea from testing ballistic missiles.
Hirofumi Nakasone, the Japanese foreign minister, said Japan will consider any rocket launch to be a missile test, even if the payload was a satellite.
"Obviously, it is our country that faces the most serious threat," he said. "We plan to take a leadership role so that the entire international community will join in solid action to support sanctions."
Japan imposed tight trade sanctions against Pyongyang in 2006 after it tested ballistic missiles in waters between the two countries and conducted an atomic weapons test.