BEIJING -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice declared herself satisfied yesterday with the efforts of Asian neighbors to exert pressure on North Korea's Kim Jong Il but suggested it is unlikely that the world will be rid of the threat posed by the dictator's newly tested nuclear capability anytime soon.
Rice said she received assurances from Chinese leaders that they would enforce United Nations sanctions imposed against North Korea after Pyongyang's nuclear weapons test last week. But U.S. and Chinese officials offered little in the way of details about what steps the Chinese would take.
Rice said Chinese leaders pledged that they would be "scrupulous" in monitoring cargo crossing China's border with North Korea. She arrived amid reports that China's banks have tightened restrictions on financial transfers to North Korea.
She predicted that the sanctions would not end soon. "We can be, probably will be, in this [sanctions] regime for a long time," Rice said.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency, citing unnamed Chinese sources, reported that Kim told a Chinese envoy that he was not planning further tests. Neither U.S. nor Chinese officials confirmed the report.
North Korea held a rally yesterday that drew tens of thousands of soldiers and citizens to celebrate the Oct. 9 nuclear test, according to the official North Korean news agency.
China was the third country Rice visited in a tour of the region to rally support for the U.N. sanctions and U.S. efforts to isolate the Kim regime in the wake of the nuclear test. She has visited Japan and South Korea, and will go to Russia today.
The sanctions include a ban on North Korea's importing or exporting materials for weapons of mass destruction or missile technology. The sale of luxury goods to North Korea is also barred. The sanctions order a freeze on the assets of people and organizations associated with North Korea's unconventional weapons activities.
China's support is vital to efforts to squeeze North Korea. China is the nation's largest trading partner and a major supplier of food and fuel.
Despite China's support for the U.S.-led campaign to keep North Korea out of the nuclear club, China faces conflicting interests that could test its determination. The countries have long been allies, and Chinese leaders fear that too much pressure on Kim could cause his regime to collapse and trigger the flight of thousands of refugees across the border into China.
In a public statement after his talks with Rice, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing called for a measured approach.
"We hope that all the relevant parties will maintain coolheadedness, adopt a prudent and responsible approach, and adhere to dialogue and peaceful resolution," Li said.
Rice has proceeded delicately during her tour of the region, repeatedly declaring in public settings that she does not intend to dictate the steps that countries should take to enforce sanctions against Pyongyang.
After vigorous denunciations of North Korea by U.S. officials in the initial days after the nuclear test, Rice now regularly repeats that the United States wishes "to de-escalate, not escalate" the crisis.
Mike Dorning writes for the Chicago Tribune.