North Korea's closest allies, China and Russia, have a rare opportunity to show their worth as members of the international community. Together, they have the diplomatic leverage to end an escalating security breach in East Asia. Pyongyang's decision to rescind a 1994 agreement with the United States and resume operation and construction of nuclear power plants is a frightening prospect. While it desperately needs electricity, its secretive plutonium and uranium programmes point to as much interest in nuclear weapons as power generation. Negotiations on bringing North Korea out of its secretive diplomatic shell and into the wider world community are deadlocked. The North's admission in October that it was enriching uranium with an aim to develop weapons caused Washington, the chief Korean peace-broker, to freeze talks until the programme was scrapped. North Korea has countered with a series of increasingly desperate manoeuvres. First, it asked the US to sign a pact of non-aggression - a reiteration of its non-negotiable demand that the US pull its 37,000 troops out of South Korea. When the US increased pressure for action by cutting off agreed oil shipments, it ordered inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who had been checking on the spent fuel rods from the nuclear reactors, out of the country. A shipment of Scud missiles bound for Yemen was boarded and searched in the Arabian Sea on Monday, proof that weapons proliferation is still the North's staple foreign currency earner. A series of media statements from Pyongyang using rhetoric more consistent with a nation seeking war rather than wanting to avoid it has alarmed South Koreans, who vote this week for a new president. The US realises the escalating seriousness of the situation and has embarked on an unprecedented push for North Korea's neighbours and allies to pressure the isolationist nation. On Friday it emerged that President George W. Bush had asked China, Russia and Japan to help. In the wake of a visit to China, South Korea and Japan by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, the new commander of the US Pacific Fleet, Admiral Thomas Fargo, arrived in Beijing on Friday for talks on security. China has urged the US and North Korea to resolve the standoff through talks. But Beijing, through its diplomatic relationship with Pyongyang, holds a key to resolution that it must use. By doing so, it may resolve the worst threat to security in the region while prove its peace-broking abilities on the international stage.