N. Korea eager to see resumption of six-nation nuclear talks
BEIJING: North Korean leader Kim Jong Il returned home Saturday after pressing for a restart in talks on swapping aid for his country’s nuclear disarmament during visits to Russia and China.
During the China leg of his trip from Thursday to Saturday, Kim toured factories, a dairy and industrial zones in the northeastern provinces of Jilin and Heilongjiang and praised the region’s economic transformation, according to Chinese state media reports.
The reports were unusual in that the secretive North Korean leader’s visits usually are confirmed only after they are over.
Kim said during his China visit that he was willing to impose a nuclear test and production moratorium and return to international talks on Pyongyang’s atomic program without preconditions, state media reported late Friday.
That echoed a commitment he made earlier in the week during a summit meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in a Siberian city.
North Korea is eager to see a resumption of the six-nation nuclear talks, a move that could help relieve growing economic woes stemming from natural disasters and deepening international sanctions.
However, Washington and Seoul have been wary of the North’s appeals for renewed talks, calling first for an improvement in dismal ties between the Koreas and for a sincere sign from the North that it will abide by past commitments it has made in previous rounds of talks.
China is the most important diplomatic ally of North Korea and a major source of economic assistance for the isolated communist state.
Kim traveled through northeast China on his special, armored train. China’s official Xinhua News Agency said Saturday that he had left for home after visiting Tonghua city in Jilin province, which borders North Korea. South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency later reported that he had crossed back into North Korea, without citing sources.
Kim, 69, is believed to have suffered a stroke in 2008 but appeared relatively vigorous in photos from his Russia trip and in television coverage from China’s state-run national broadcaster, which showed him shaking hands with numerous officials and smiling broadly in his trademark sun glasses and beige leisure suit.
North Korea is believed to have enough weaponized plutonium for at least six atomic bombs, and is believed to be working toward mounting a nuclear bomb on a long-range missile.
Last year, it unveiled a uranium enrichment facility that could give it a second way to make nuclear weapons.