Beijing (AFP) Jan 10, 2006
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il reportedly arrived in China Tuesday for a rare visit that analysts said offered some hope for progress in the diplomatic stand-off over the secretive regime's nuclear program.
While South Korean media reported a special train was carrying the reclusive leader to the capital of his main ally, China refused to either confirm or deny that a visit was taking place.
"Of course Kim Jong-Il plans to visit China, there is definitely such a plan," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Kong Quan told a regular briefing.
"But (regarding) at what time, I must release information only when I have authorized information."
Kim's train -- his main means of long-haul transport reportedly because he is afraid of flying -- passed through the Chinese border town of Dandong amid tight security before dawn, South Korean media reports said.
"The scene was quite similar to one in April 2004, when Kim Jong-Il visited China by a special train," Yonhap news agency quoted an unidentified source as saying.
South Korea's National Intelligence Agency told AFP it was checking the report while the defense ministry, quoting military intelligence, said it had no information on the matter.
North Korean and Chinese media carried no reports of a visit by Kim, who rarely ventures abroad.
If confirmed, this would be Kim's fourth trip to China since May 2000. He last visited in April 2004, a trip that was similarly shrouded in secrecy.
Gilles Guiheux, director of the Hong Kong-based French Center for Research on Contemporary China, called Kim's visit "a victory for Chinese diplomacy" in regards to the stalled six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear ambitions.
"It's probably a good sign he's visiting in the sense that it means he's ready to hear what the Chinese are going to tell him," he said.
"They're probably going to pressure him to move forward so some kind of agreement is reached with the United States."
China has hosted six-party talks aimed at ending the standoff over North Korea's nuclear weapons program, and President Hu Jintao visited Pyongyang in October to discuss the stalled talks.
Under an accord reached at the September talks, the Stalinist country agreed to eliminate its nuclear weapons in return for diplomatic and economic benefits.
But the last round of talks in November ended in a stalemate after the Stalinist country demanded the United States lift sanctions imposed on its firms.
The US Treasury Department in September told US financial institutions to stop dealing with a Macau bank, Banco Delta Asia, which it accused of being a front for North Korean counterfeiting.
A month later the US blacklisted eight North Korean companies allegedly involved in the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
Pyongyang denies the charges and insists that the sanctions, targeting the flow of hard currency to North Korea, are a major roadblock to six-party talks.
Washington insists sanctions are unrelated to the nuclear standoff, which erupted in late 2002 over US charges that North Korea was seeking to build nuclear weapons through a secret uranium enrichment program.
The six-party talks involve China, the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia.
Joseph Cheng, a China analyst at the City University of Hong Kong, agreed the six-party talks would be on the agenda during Kim's visit, but said he would also be seeking food aid from China for his impoverished country.
"There are two aspects here. China wants to prepare the next round of six-party talks and make sure there is a roadmap based on the vague consensus reached in previous talks," Cheng said.
"And since it's in the middle of winter, North Korea will hope to discuss food aid from China."
Cheng said Kim will also probably spend time inspecting a high-tech company or research institute, as he has done during past visits to China.
"It will be a good gesture to China and to the outside world that he cares about economic reform," he said.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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US: Iran Nuclear Move Marks 'Serious Escalation'
Washington (AFP) Jan 10, 2006
The United States called Iran's move Tuesday to resume sensitive atomic research a "serious escalation" of their nuclear row and said it was in intensive discussions with allies on a response.
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