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China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi (R) and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian attend a joint news conference at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China November 24, 2017. REUTERS/Jason Lee


By Tom Daly

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has leverage to persuade North Korea to go back to talks over its nuclear ambitions, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Friday, after meeting with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.

North Korea's rapid progress in developing nuclear weapons and missiles has fuelled a surge in regional tensions as United Nations-led sanctions appear to have failed to bite deeply enough to change its behaviour.

Western diplomats have said that China is largely responsible for patchy enforcement.

But Beijing bristles at the notion that it should be doing more to rein in North Korea, which does about 90 percent of its trade with China, saying it is fully enforcing U.N. sanctions and that everyone has a responsibility to lower tension and get talks back on track.

"We want to force the negotiations ... and it's true that China is well placed to push," Le Drian told reporters during a joint briefing with Wang after arriving in Beijing for a four-day visit.

A military solution was an "extreme" option, he said.

China advocates for a "dual suspension" plan to address the issue in which Pyongyang would halt its nuclear and missile programmes and Washington would stop military exercises with its allies in the region, though U.S. President Donald Trump has ruled it out.

Wang said the proposition is "realistic and feasible".

"France thought it was a real proposition but that the conditions to realise it have not been met. But if we don't have the conditions we have to create the conditions," Wang said.

Le Drian countered that he didn't see it as the right approach.

"I don't believe much in the double-suspension strategy, because first of all [North Korea] isn't prepared to negotiate the very principle of this nuclear programme," Le Drian said.

Le Drian has said previously that bellicose statements by Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have created fears of a dangerous miscalculation, particularly since Pyongyang conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept. 3.

Washington this week imposed sanctions on 13 Chinese and North Korean organisations Washington accused of helping evade nuclear restrictions against Pyongyang and supporting the country through trade of commodities like coal.

The U.S. Treasury also put North Korea back on a list of state sponsors of terrorism.

But North Korea last week ruled out negotiations with Washington as long as joint U.S-South Korea military exercises continue, and said that Pyongyang's atomic weapons programme would remain as a deterrent against a U.S. nuclear threat.

The air forces of South Korea and the United States are scheduled to hold a regular joint drill in December, which will include hundreds of aircraft and about 12,000 U.S. personnel.

(Reporting by Tom Daly; Writing by Michael Martina; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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