Reports of China visit raise hopes of nuke talks

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Reports of China visit raise hopes of nuke talks

WASHINGTON - The United States Monday expressed hope that any visit to China by Kim Jong-il will lead to a resumption of the multilateral talks to end North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, which have been stalled over international sanctions against the reclusive communist state.

“I hope when he arrives in Beijing, he’ll announce that North Korea’s willing to come back to the six-party process and take affirmative action steps towards denuclearization,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said. “We wish him safe travels.”

Crowley was responding to reports that the North Korean leader will visit Beijing later this month to discuss reopening the nuclear talks and to appeal for economic aid.

Pyongyang is said to be feeling the pinch from sanctions imposed after its nuclear and missile tests last year, especially after the recent devaluation of its currency worsened its economic plight and created rare unrest in the tightly controlled state.

The currency devaluation, aimed at shutting down private markets and regaining state control of the economy, led to skyrocketing inflation. As a result, authorities had to allow the private markets to reopen, according to reports and sources well informed on North Korean society.

The North needs food, energy and other economic aid from China, its biggest benefactor and the host of the six-party talks. However, the talks’ revival would not necessarily mean substantial progress in the nuclear negotiations, according to some analysts.

It is likely that Kim Jong-il’s trip will see him seek Chinese support for his effort to install his youngest son, Jong-un, as heir apparent. Kim apparently suffered a stroke in 2008.

Kim’s trip would be his fifth. He traveled China in 2000, 2001, 2004 and 2006.

The nuclear talks, involving the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia, have been on and off since their inception in 2003, with some skeptics saying China prefers the status quo - even a nuclear-armed North Korea - to any instability.

Since the December visit to Pyongyang by Stephen Bosworth, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, the North has demanded the lifting of sanctions and a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War as preconditions for new talks.

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