China visit sparks hopes of renewed disarmament talks

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (photo) met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il on his arrival in Pyongyang, according to the official Chinese news agency. The visit raises hopes that Pyongyang will return to nuclear disarmament talks.


AFP - North Korean Leader Kim Jong-il greeted Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Pyongyang on Sunday, China's official Xinhua news agency said, amid signs the reclusive state may return to nuclear disarmament talks.

Wen was accompanied by Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and China's envoy to the stalled talks, Wu Dawei, Xinhua said.

China has framed the rare three-day visit as a "goodwill" trip to a longtime communist ally, but it comes amid indications of a possible resumption of the talks which group the two Koreas, the United States, Russia, Japan and China.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported earlier that the North Korean leader, who has hinted he may be willing to come back to the nuclear negotiation table, may make an "important announcement" during Wen's visit.

The agency, quoting diplomatic sources in Beijing, said Kim was expected to state his willingness to give up nuclear weapons and suggest a way forward.

Yonhap has said Wen and Kim were to hold talks on Monday.

Pyongyang quit the talks in protest at United Nations censure of its long-range rocket launch on April 5.

The reclusive country staged a second atomic weapons test in May, bringing stronger United Nations sanctions backed even by China, its closest ally.

But since August, Pyongyang has made conciliatory gestures to both Washington and Seoul.

It freed two detained US reporters, released five South Koreans, eased border curbs for visitors from the South and dropped demands for huge pay rises at a Seoul-funded industrial estate.

And last month Kim appeared to leave the door open for a return to negotiations, telling a visiting Chinese envoy that his country was willing to engage in some form of talks.

During a recent five-nation Asian trip, US Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg welcomed Wen's visit as a positive sign and urged North Korea to seize a "tremendous opportunity" to return to the negotiating table.

Despite the improving diplomatic climate, the North said last month it must keep its nuclear deterrent in the face of what it termed US nuclear threats.

"Giving up nuclear weapons cannot be considered even in a dream as long as the fundamental reasons which have forced us to possess nuclear weapons exist," a government spokesman told the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

Yonhap also reported that Washington is expected to announce a trip to Pyongyang by Stephen Bosworth, the US envoy on North Korean disarmament, after Wen's visit.

Bosworth said in early September that Washington was ready for bilateral talks with Pyongyang, but only as part of the wider six-party talks.

Beijing remains Pyongyang's sole major ally and leading trade partner and energy supplier, but opposes its neighbour's nuclear ambitions.

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