North Korea nuclear envoy visits China

SEOUL/BEIJING (Reuters) – North
Korea’s top nuclear envoy arrived in Beijing on Tuesday as Pyongyang said it
was willing to step up talks with China on resuming stalled disarmament-for-aid
talks.

The apparent shift by North Korea
toward returning to six-party talks came a day after the North’s leader, Kim
Jong-il, pledged again to remove nuclear weapons from the peninsula.

Kim has made, and broken, similar
pledges before, and analysts say it is unlikely he will ever scrap nuclear
arms, which are seen at home as the crowning achievement in his military-first
rule.

But they say the impoverished North
is feeling the pressure of U.N. sanctions imposed after its nuclear test last
year, as well as a botched currency reform that the South said sparked
inflation and rare civil unrest.

Kim Kye-gwan, the North’s top
nuclear negotiator, arrived in Beijing on Tuesday.

“Dispatching Kim Kye-gwan
indicates that some sort of understanding is being worked out between China and
North Korea on restarting the nuclear talks,” said Cheong Seong-Chang, a
senior fellow at the Sejong Institute think tank near Seoul.

The North quit the talks —
involving China, the United States, Japan, Russia and South Korea — a year
ago.

China, the North’s biggest
benefactor, is seen as having the most influence on the reclusive state.

During a visit to Pyongyang on
Monday, Kim told senior Chinese official Wang Jiarui that North Korea was
willing to further step up communication and coordination with China about a
resumption of the six-party talks process, said a statement from the Chinese
Communist Party’s international department.

Wang also passed on a message to
Kim from President Hu Jintao, inviting him to visit China “when
convenient” and calling for the nuclear issue to be “appropriately
dealt with,” it added.

The Chinese statement said Kim had
reiterated the North’s “persistent stance to realize the denuclearization
of the Korean peninsula” during the meeting with Wang.

The North has said many times it could
end its nuclear arms programme if the United States drops what Pyongyang sees
as a hostile policy toward it.

In another high-profile visit to
the country, U.N. Under Secretary General for Political Affairs Lynn Pascoe was
expected to arrive in Pyongyang on Tuesday.

The destitute North can win aid to
prop up its broken economy at the six-way talks if it reduces the security
threat it poses to North Asia, which is responsible for one-sixth of the global
economy.