| Vladimir Putin (left) with Jiang Zemin in Beijing on Monday. (AP/PTI)
Beijing, Dec. 2 (Reuters): Russia and China urged North Korea today to drop its nuclear weapons programme in the strongest language used by the Cold War Communist giants for detente on the Korean peninsula.
The appeal by the two nations, North Korea’s closest allies, was the highlight of a summit between visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin.
A joint declaration issued after the meeting strongly backed better relations between Washington and Pyongyang and also urged reconciliation between North and South Korea, but made it clear the nuclear issue needed to be tackled.
“The sides consider it important for the destiny of the world and security in northeast Asia to preserve the non-nuclear status of the Korean peninsula and the regime of non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” said the joint declaration.
It also stressed “the extreme importance of normalising relations between the United States and the DPRK on the basis of continued observation of earlier reached agreements, including the framework agreement of 1994,” it said.
Analysts say China and Russia have only limited sway over North Korea — officially called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) — and the declaration was consistent with recent policy towards their small, isolated neighbour.
But the statement from its two Cold War-era “big brothers” raised diplomatic pressure on North Korea, which stunned the world in October by admitting it had a nuclear weapons programme.
Under a 1994 agreement, North Korea agreed to halt plans to develop nuclear weapons in exchange for light water nuclear reactors and fuel oil, but Pyongyang told a visiting US official in October that it had a nuclear arms programme.
Following the admission, the US and its allies, including South Korea and Japan, decided to suspend the fuel oil shipments. Putin's visit was designed to seek common ground with China’s retiring and incoming leaders, especially on security issues such as North Korea, Iraq and the war on terrorism.
Putin chatted with Jiang — a Russian speaker who once worked in the Soviet Union — as they walked past an honour guard before talks in the Great Hall of the People beside Tiananmen Square. The two leaders later toasted each other with champagne.
“China and Russia will be good neighbours, friends and partners forever,” Jiang said after the meeting.
Putin also became the first major world leader to meet Vice President Hu Jintao since he replaced Jiang as head of China’s Communist Party last month. Hu is due to succeed Jiang as head of state at a parliament meeting in March.
Russia said today it was expelling two Swedish diplomats, in a clear tit-for-tat response to Stockholm’s expulsion last month of two Russian diplomats in an industrial spying scandal.
Stockholm issued a statement saying it “deeply regrets” the Russian move