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Rex Tillerson in China for North Korea talks

US secretary of state meets Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss the North Korean nuclear crisis.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will hold top-level talks in China on Saturday as the United States looks to an economic squeeze of North Korea it hopes will compel the reclusive country's retreat from nuclear arms and missile programmes.

The US sees China as critical to averting a military confrontation with Pyongyang, which is fast advancing towards its goal of developing a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the United States.

Tillerson will hold talks with China's top diplomat State Councillor Yang Jiechi, Foreign Minister Wang Yi as well as President Xi Jinping.

Moscow, meanwhile, is prepared to work with Pyongyang to try to find a peaceful resolution to the North Korean missile crisis, the Russian Foreign ministry said on Friday.

The comments came in a statement issued by the ministry after a meeting between Russian ambassador-at-large Oleg Burmistrov and Choe Son-hui, director-general of the North American department of North Korea's foreign ministry.

Choe also met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov, the ministry said.

"The Russian side confirmed its readiness to combine efforts in the interests of finding ways to solve the problems in the region by peaceful, political and diplomatic means," it said.

China says it will strictly and fully enforce UN resolutions against North Korea and its Commerce Ministry on Thursday said North Korean firms and joint ventures in China and overseas would be shut down by January, in line with the latest UN resolution.

'Unacceptable options'

US Senator John McCain, who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee, said this week he was sceptical.

"China has not done anything for the last three presidents. I'm not sure that they're going to do anything with this one," McCain told a security conference in Washington.

McCain has repeatedly warned the United States, which neither wants to live with a nuclear-armed North Korea nor go to war with it, may be faced with "unacceptable options".

US officials have declined to discuss operational plans, but acknowledge no existing plan for a preemptive strike could promise to prevent a counterattack by North Korea, which has thousands of artillery pieces and rockets trained on South Korea's capital Seoul - a city of 25 million people.

White House National Security Adviser HR McMaster said on Monday even options such as a naval blockade meant to enforce sanctions carried risks of military escalation.

Tillerson has in the past expressed hope for dialogue with North Korea. US diplomats have also sought to assure Pyongyang that Washington is not seeking to oust leader Kim Jong-un, even as Trump and Kim exchange insults and threats of war.

"We are not seeking regime change or collapse," State Department Assistant Secretary Susan Thornton, who is traveling with Tillerson, told a Senate hearing.

Thornton's remarks were welcomed in Beijing, which is calling for a peaceful solution to the crisis.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the United States had issued many "positive signals" that the North Korean nuclear issue should be resolved via talks.

Still, it is unclear how and when negotiations with Pyongyang might be possible.

McMaster said there was no set list of preconditions for talks but added Pyongyang's capabilities had advanced too far to simply freeze its nuclear programme in return for concessions.

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