South Korea and China agree to boost diplomacy

South Korea's Ban Ki-moon and China's Li Zhaoxing held closed-door talks for about an hour, talking about strategies for persuading Pyongyang not to test-fire a missile and resuming six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.

Ban asked China to "make efforts for the resolution of this issue by persuading North Korea well," Yonhap reported, citing Lee Hyuck, director-general of the South's Foreign Ministry's Asia-Pacific affairs bureau.

Li said China had discussed the matter with North Korea, Yonhap said, but did not give details.

China, a key provider of aid to impoverished North Korea, is believed to be the only country that has considerable leverage with the hard-line regime of Kim Jong Il. But since the crisis over North Korea's nuclear programs emerged in late 2002, China has largely refrained from threats to halt the fuel and food deliveries and bank credits that sustain Pyongyang, according to the AP.

Western diplomats in Beijing, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity, said China had not sent a special envoy to Pyongyang or otherwise intensified its diplomacy over the missile threat.

Li told Ban that getting North Korea back to talks on its nuclear weapons ambitions was a top priority and that efforts should be focused on ensuring Pyongyang avoids firing a missile, Yonhap said.

Six-nation talks aimed at resolving the issue have been stalled since November over a dispute surrounding U.S. financial restrictions on the North.