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McCain urges China to get tough on North Korea

Sen. John McCain (left) smiles as he chats with Chinese National People's Congress Chairman Wu Bangguo at the Great Hall of the People on Wednesday in Beijing.

Sen. John McCain (left) smiles as he chats with Chinese National People's Congress Chairman Wu Bangguo at the Great Hall of the People on Wednesday in Beijing.

BEIJING – U.S. Senator John McCain urged China on Thursday to take a firmer stand against North Korea following Pyongyang’s latest rocket firing, saying Beijing had more leverage than any other country to influence the North’s behavior.

The Arizona Republican said stronger measures were needed in response to Sunday’s launch, including sanctions at the U.N. Security Council. Both Beijing and Washington are veto-wielding permanent members of the body.

“I want to say very frankly what we all know, and that the nation that has true influence over North Korea” is China, McCain said in remarks to reporters following meetings with China’s foreign and defense ministers and the head of the national legislature.

“And we have urged the Chinese to exercise that responsibility as quickly as possible and as strongly as possible, which in my view, they have not done enough of in the past,” McCain said.

China is Pyongyang’s strongest ally and has offered a muted response to Sunday’s rocket firing, in contrast to the stern expressions of concern from the U.S., Japan and South Korea — who say they believe the launch was a test of a long-range ballistic missile, not a satellite launch as Pyongyang insists. Beijing has yet to weigh in on the argument.

McCain also expressed disappointment at the lack of progress in six-nation talks aimed at shutting down Pyongyang’s nuclear programs.

The negotiations, hosted by China and involving the U.S., Japan, Russia and North and South Korea, are currently stalled after five years of on-again, off-again meetings. The deadlock centers on Pyongyang’s refusal of a verification process that would confirm it had dismantled its nuclear programs.

“I don’t think the talks have been very productive,” said McCain, the 2008 Republican nominee for president. He said his disappointment was heightened by allegations that North Korea has “at least exported some (atomic) technologies,” pointing to claims of North Korean involvement in the Iranian and Syrian nuclear programs.

While China is believed to be North Korea’s biggest supplier of food and fuel aid, it has appeared to have limited sway with the isolated regime in Pyongyang. China may be unwilling to take a hard stand against Pyongyang for fear of further eroding that influence.

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