By Chris Buckley
BEIJING (Reuters) - China urged regional powers on Monday to restart moribund nuclear disarmament talks with North Korea, with its foreign minister Yang Jiechi defending Beijing as an honest broker seeking to defuse confrontation with Pyongyang.
Yang made the call at a forum in Beijing to mark the sixth anniversary six-party talks, which offered North Korea economic and energy aid in return for dismantling its nuclear arms program and marked a high point for China as a broker on the world diplomatic stage.
But North Korea walked out of the talks more than two years ago after the United Nations imposed fresh sanctions on it for holding nuclear and missile tests, eroding Beijing's broker role.
Yang told diplomats and scholars it was time to set aside quarrels and focus on restarting the six-party talks.
"We're pleased to see that various parties have been undertaking positive contacts around restarting the six-party talks, and all sides should seize opportunities to maintain the momentum of dialogue," said Yang.
"We must take our own countries' security interests seriously, and also take into account the legitimate security concerns of other countries."
During a visit to Russia last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il said he would consider suspending nuclear arms tests and production if six-party talks resume.
But many differences divide North Korea from South Korea and the United States, making it unlikely for any new round of talks to make progress, said a prominent Chinese analyst, Zhang Liangui.
"It seems likely that the talks can resume, because South Korea and the United States have been more accommodating and we've seen movement from all sides," said Zhang, who is an expert on North Korea at the Central Party School in Beijing.
"But the prospects for the talks making any progress in resolving the North Korea nuclear issue are slimmer than before," he added. "North Korea won't give up its nuclear weapons, and we can't ignore that basic point."
"TURBULENCE AND INSTABILITY"
Beijing is Pyongyang's main diplomatic backer and economic partner, but also wants to defuse tension in the region, Yang said.
"China does not have its own selfish interests in the issues on the (Korean) peninsula, and has received widespread acclaim and high marks from the international community for its constructive role in protecting regional peace and stability," said Yang.
The six-party talks held in Beijing since 2003 have brought together North and South Korea, China, the United States, Japan and Russia in irregular bouts of intense negotiations.
Last year, relations between Pyongyang and regional neighbors were further damaged by the killing of 50 South Koreans in two separate attacks on the peninsula -- one on a navy ship and one on an island near disputed waters.
But on Monday South Korea's new Unification Minister Yu Woo-ik said he would "try to create atmosphere for dialogue and untangle knots in relations," in his first comments after replacing Hyun In-taek, who was deemed a hard-liner by North Korea.
Yang did not mention those attacks in his remarks, which caused friction for Beijing because of its resistance to demands from Washington and Seoul to denounce Pyongyang for the deadly confrontations with South Korea.
Nor did he mention North Korea's announcement that it is advancing uranium enrichment efforts, which would give it another pathway to making nuclear weapons. The North has already used its Yongbyon nuclear complex to make plutonium -- the other way of making fissile nuclear material for weapons.
Pyongyang says its uranium enrichment is for peaceful civilian purposes.
"Unless the six-party talks address uranium enrichment, then they're missing a core issue now," said Zhang, the Chinese analyst. "But North Korea is very likely to resist that, and use the talks to demand concessions of its own."
(Additional reporting by Jeremy Laurence; Editing by Ed Lane)