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PRETORIA/BEIJING (Reuters) - North Korea, vilified in the West for its missile tests, said Tuesday it was willing to return to six-party talks on its nuclear program if the United States dropped financial sanctions.
The comment from Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Hyong Jun came as China condemned a Japan-sponsored U.N. resolution to slap sanctions on North Korea, calling it an over-reaction that would split the Security Council.
"As soon as the United States lifts financial sanctions, we will readily participate in the next round of the six party talks," Kim told reporters in South African capital, Pretoria, where he is on an official visit.
Accelerated international efforts were under way to find a diplomatic solution to a crisis sparked by Pyongyang's test-launch of missiles last week.
China hosted a number of sessions of the six-party talks, also attended by the United States, South Korea, Japan and Russia. But the process stalled in November because Pyongyang objected to U.S. financial sanctions based on accusations North Korea counterfeited U.S. currency and trafficked drugs.
A top U.S. envoy flew to Beijing Tuesday, seeking a briefing on China's diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis.
Backers of the draft U.N. resolution Tuesday put off the vote for another day while Chinese officials visit Pyongyang. Eight of the Security Council's 15 members sponsor the text and were due to meet Wednesday to reassess the situation.
"The Chinese side thinks the concerned draft resolution is an over-reaction. If approved, it will aggravate contradictions and increase tension," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters. "It will hurt efforts to resume six-party talks as well as lead to the U.N. Security Council splitting."
Diplomats at the United Nations said that China had indicated it would probably use its veto, not just abstain, in a vote on the Japan-sponsored resolution. China has only used its veto four times in the past, all related to Taiwan.
China on Monday had circulated a tough statement that used similar language to the resolution but would make the sanctions voluntary rather than mandatory.
Chinese President Hu Jintao told visiting North Korean parliamentarian Yang Hyong Sop that China opposed any action that would stoke tension on the Korean peninsula. State media said he urged all parties to take steps conducive to peace.
Senior U.S. diplomat Christopher Hill, Washington's top man on North Korea, arrived back in the Chinese capital Tuesday.
"We have the DPRK (North Korea) which, instead of coming to the six-party process, is firing off missiles of all shapes and sizes, missiles that are aimed at not just us but countries in the region," Hill told reporters.
He said he wanted to see what "kind of leverage" Beijing had over Pyongyang and that he hoped for progress in bringing North Korea back to the six-party talks on its nuclear program.
"At this point, the jury is still out, said Hill, who expected to meet Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing Wednesday.
North Korea says it will not resume talks until U.S. authorities release about $20 million of its funds frozen at a Macau bank on suspicion it was linked to cross-border illicit financial activities, such as counterfeiting.
TALKS IN PYONGYANG
Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei was still in North Korea, the Chinese spokeswoman said. Vice Premier Hui Liangyu is also in North Korea, for a six-day visit. "The problems cannot be resolved in one or two trips and solely through diplomatic efforts by the Chinese side," she said.
Hill rushed to northeast Asia last week, visiting Beijing, Seoul and Tokyo seeking a unified response to Wednesday's missile launches, which have ratcheted up tension and exposed faultlines in responses by regional powers.
China fears a binding resolution imposing sanctions might pave the way for military action. South Korea also opposes sanctions. The United States, Britain and Japan, however, disagreed with China's proposed statement.
Tokyo reiterated Tuesday it intended to call for a vote on the binding resolution eventually.
Foreign Minister Taro Aso said separately that Japan wanted to see a decision on the resolution before the July 15-17 Group of Eight summit in St. Petersburg, and that the minimum content would be a ban on providing missile technology to North Korea.
(Additional reporting by Ian Ransom and Benjamin Kang Lim in Beijing, Jon Herskovitz in Seoul, and Toshi Maeda, George Nishiyama, Chikako Endo in Tokyo and Evelyn Leopold at the United Nations)
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