North Korea tells China it's committed to denuclearization

North Korea tells China it's committed to denuclearization
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, left meets China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. (Fred Dufour/Pool Photo via AP) (Fred Dufour)

BEIJING (AP) — North Korea's foreign minister said his country remains committed to ending its nuclear weapons program in talks Friday with his Chinese counterpart, according to China's foreign ministry.

The talks in Beijing between Ri Yong Ho and Wang Yi came amid a lack of progress in international efforts to persuade North Korea to reverse its drive to build a nuclear arsenal.

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

Ri told Wang that North Korea is "committed to realizing denuclearization and safeguarding the peace and stability of the (Korean) peninsula," ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters at a daily briefing.

In the talks, Ri was also expected to have been briefed on discussions last week between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump, who recently said his next meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would likely happen in January or February.

China's President Xi Jinping, right, shakes hands with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. 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.(Fred Dufour/Pool Photo via AP)
China's President Xi Jinping, right, shakes hands with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. 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.(Fred Dufour/Pool Photo via AP) (AP)

Ri later paid a courtesy call on Xi, who told him, "The international and regional situation as well as the situation on the Korean Peninsula remains in flux."

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, center, meets China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. (Fred Dufour/Pool Photo via AP)
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, center, meets China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. (Fred Dufour/Pool Photo via AP) (AP)

"So timely exchanges and the coordination of positions between China and North Korea are still extremely essential," Xi said.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, second left, meets China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, right, during a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. (Fred Dufour/Pool Photo via AP)
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, second left, meets China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi, right, during a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. (Fred Dufour/Pool Photo via AP) (AP)

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.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, center, speaks to China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. (Fred Dufour/Pool Photo via AP)
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, center, speaks to China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. (Fred Dufour/Pool Photo via AP) (AP)

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.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho speaks to China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. (Fred Dufour/Pool Photo via AP)
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho speaks to China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. (Fred Dufour/Pool Photo via AP) (AP)

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. North Korea has argued that it has taken some steps, like dismantling its nuclear testing facility and releasing American detainees.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho speaks to China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. (Fred Dufour/Pool Photo via AP)
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho speaks to China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. (Fred Dufour/Pool Photo via AP) (AP)

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

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, center, listens to China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. (Fred Dufour/Pool Photo via AP)
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, center, listens to China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a meeting at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. (Fred Dufour/Pool Photo via AP) (AP)

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.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, left, meets China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. (Fred Dufour/Pool Photo via AP)
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, left, meets China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. (Fred Dufour/Pool Photo via AP) (AP)

Despite that, Geng said bilateral relations had "entered a new historic stage," and the sides would "continue forging ahead with the development of the peninsular situation in the direction of denuclearization."

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, left, meets China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. (Fred Dufour/Pool Photo via AP)
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, left, meets China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing Friday, Dec. 7, 2018. (Fred Dufour/Pool Photo via AP) (AP)

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