N. Korea Agrees To 6-Party Talks

China's No. 2 leader Wu Bangguo, center left, stands at attention along with Kim Yong Nam, center right, head of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly, in Pyongyang on Thursday October 30, 2003 when he visited the Kumsunsan Memorail Palace.
AP
China and North Korea agreed "in principle" Thursday to reconvene six-nation talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program, Chinese state television said, reporting on an unusual meeting between a top Chinese official and the North's reclusive leader.

China Central Television, in its national evening newscast, also said the Beijing leadership expressed to Kim Jong Il that the concerns of both sides in the nuclear standoff — the United States and North Korea — should be resolved simultaneously.

State television showed Wu Bangguo, the second-highest Chinese Communist Party leader and head of his country's legislature, meeting with a smiling Kim in Pyongyang. Wu is on a three-day "goodwill" visit to the North at a pivotal time when China is trying to make sure the six-nation summit reconvenes.

"Both sides agreed in principle that the six-way talks should continue," CCTV's anchorwoman said as footage of the two ran. "China and North Korea support the idea of a peaceful resolution to the North Korean issue through dialogue."

The United States demands that North Korea dismantle its nuclear program immediately. Pyongyang says it would do so only if Washington agrees — in writing — not to attack the North and resumes the humanitarian aid needed for North Korea's starving population.

A spokesman who answered the phone at the press section of China's Foreign Ministry said he had nothing to add to the CCTV report.

The presence in the Chinese delegation of Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi, China's point man on North Korean affairs, lent credence to speculation that there might be motion in the nuclear issue during the trip. But if recent weeks are any indication, the North's apparent agreement to join the summit again could change quickly.

After the six nations — the two Koreas, China, the United States, Japan and Russia — met for the first time in Beijing in August, the North said it would join them again. However, it backtracked hours after the parley adjourned and has gone back and forth in the weeks since.

Earlier Thursday, China's official Xinhua News Agency quoted Wu as saying that "adherence to dialogue should be the correct direction" to end the standoff — a dispute China has positioned itself to help solve, if not mediate outright.

"We want to hold this round of six-party talks as soon as possible," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said at a regular briefing in Beijing.

The dispute began a year ago when the United States said North Korea admitted to a secret nuclear program. In the ensuing months, Washington demanded the program be scrapped and Pyongyang refused, saying only the nonaggression treaty and aid could change its mind.

At home, China used its state-controlled propaganda machine Thursday to drive home its long-held point — that dialogue, and not any rash action, will solve the dispute.

"Neighbors work together for peace," the newspaper China Daily said on its front page. Most every Chinese-language newspaper stressed the need for more talks.

China, Pyongyang's most powerful ally, has struggled to balance its duty to its neighbor with what a nuclear-armed North might mean for Chinese security — and the Chinese economy.

Wu, invited by the North, is the highest-level Chinese official to publicly travel to the insular nation since 2001, when then-President Jiang Zemin paid a state visit.

Pyongyang is believed already to have one or two atomic bombs, and recently said it extracted plutonium from 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods to build more. Two weeks ago, it threatened to test a bomb.