(ATTN: UPDATES with U.S. officials' remarks in last 4 paras)
By Chang Jae-soon
WASHINGTON, Sept. 22 (Yonhap) -- Chinese President Xi Jinping expressed a firm commitment to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula and pledged to work closely with the United States to achieve the goal through peaceful means, according to an interview published Tuesday.
"China's position for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is firm and clear-cut. At the same time, we believe that the denuclearization, peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula should be achieved through peaceful means," Xi said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.
Xi said the current situation of the Korean Peninsula is "intricate and sensitive" but did not elaborate.
"China will maintain close communication and coordination with the U.S. and relevant parties to properly address issues relating to the Korean Peninsula and ensure long-term stability of Northeast Asia," he said.
Xi began a weeklong state visit to the U.S. on Tuesday with a stop in San Francisco, where he plans to hold a series of business meetings. It's Xi's second visit to the U.S. -- the first state visit -- since taking office in 2013.
After flying to Washington on Thursday, Xi is scheduled to hold summit talks with President Barack Obama on Friday, with the agenda including cyber-hacking, territorial disputes in the South China Sea, climate change and other thorny topics.
North Korea is also expected to be a focus of their discussions.
The summit comes as tensions on the Korean Peninsula flare anew after the North strongly hinted it would conduct a banned long-range rocket launch, possibly around next month's ruling party anniversary. Pyongyang also said its bomb-making nuclear facilities have returned to normal operation and it could conduct a nuclear test if necessary.
On Monday, U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice said that the U.S. and China are "united in demanding the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula" and won't accept North Korea as a nuclear weapons state.
Calling China a "fulcrum of influence" for the North, Rice also said this week's summit will be an important opportunity to discuss "how we can sharpen Pyongyang's choices between having nuclear weapons and developing economically."
On Tuesday, the State Department's Asia policy chief, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel, said that Obama and Xi have "an abiding interest in the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula" and this week's summit will be an opportunity for them to publicly reaffirm that "unshakable commitment."
"The confluence of strategic interests between China and the United States ... are such that we are even more steadfast in our insistence that North Korea halt, roll back and ultimately relinquish its nuclear stockpile and its ballistic missile program," Russel said during a Foreign Press Center briefing.
At the same time, the countries are also "equally firm in our commitment to extend the helping hand to North Korea," the official said of the benefits Pyongyang could gain in exchange for giving up its nuclear program, such as diplomatic recognition, economic assistance and the conversion of the Korean War armistice into a peace treaty.
U.S. National Security Council Senior Director for Asian Affairs Daniel Kritenbrink also said that North Korea will be one of the key issues to be discussed at the Obama-Xi summit and that he expects the two leaders to spend "substantial time" discussing the matter.
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