North Korean leader Kim Jong-il reportedly held talks yesterday with Chinese President Hu Jintao (
China's Foreign Ministry would not confirm Kim's arrival in Beijing and said it had "no information" on the meeting with the Chinese leader -- the first between the two since Hu became president last year. When Kim visited China in 2000 and 2001, neither side announced the trips in advance and released few details until his return to Pyongyang.
Kim and Hu talked over lunch about "how to end the North Korean nuclear issue," South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported, citing unidentified sources. The agency said the two met at the Zhongnanhai compound, where Chinese leaders live and work in central Beijing.
Hu briefed Kim on the US position, which was underscored last week during a visit by Vice President Dick Cheney, and listened to Kim's ideas on how to end the dispute, the agency said.
Washington has insisted on a "complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling" of all the communist North's nuclear facilities, but Pyongyang says it will do so only if the US provides economic aid and security guarantees.
Washington is hoping Beijing will use its leverage as North Korea's last major ally and the leading supplier of food and energy aid for its decrepit economy.
On Sunday, a North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman described Cheney as "mentally deranged."
The North "is seriously contemplating a measure to counter the US oft-repeated demand that it scrap its nuclear program first," the spokesman was quoted as saying by KCNA, the North's official news agency.
Such threats are frequently made by North Korea, which has vacillated on what it is willing to do to resolve the issue.
Yonhap said Hu and Kim also reaffirmed their "friendship and alliance" and discussed China's food and energy assistance along with Pyongyang's economic reform.
A special train carrying Kim and his entourage of about 40 senior party and government officials arrived in Beijing in the morning, Yonhap said.
Security was tight at the Chinese capital's main train station and reporters saw a convoy of heavily armored cars with tinted windows leave the area. Shortly after, the cars arrived at the Diaoyutai state guest house, where Chinese leaders usually receive visiting dignitaries.
Discussions about the nuclear issue could help to restart the process of determining when the next round of six-nation talks will be held and when lower level working groups can begin hammering out questions that might not be suitable for the high-level talks.
The last meeting, aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program, ended in February without much progress and the participants -- which also include South Korea, the US, Japan and Russia -- agreed to resume talks before July.
He is scheduled to meet former President Jiang Zemin (江澤民), who now heads China's powerful military commission, and Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) during his four-day visit, South Korea's state-run KBS-TV said. Yonhap said that meeting will take place today. He will also see Wu Bangguo (吳邦國), the head of the legislature, and Vice President Zeng Qinghong (曾慶紅), and attend a dinner hosted by Hu, it said.
Since taking over power in 1994 from his late father President Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il has been struggling to revive the impoverished North's economy, learning from China's capitalist experiments.