CHINESE LEADER TO VISIT PYONGYANG AMID NUKE STANDOFF


2003.10.23
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Hopes pinned on Wu Bangguo after Bush offer

The chairman of China's National People's Congress, Wu Bangguo, will visit North Korea this week as China attempts to broker further multilateral talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program, RFA reports.

Wu will pay an "official goodwill visit" to Pyongyang from Oct. 29-31, according a report by the North Korean state news service, KCNA, confirmed by Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue in Beijing.

Wu will be the highest-ranking Chinese official to visit the isolated Stalinist state, its former ally, since former president Jiang Zemin's visit in 2001. His trip comes shortly after an offer of an informal security guarantee made by U.S. President George W. Bush on his recent Asian trip.

North Korea wants a bilateral nonaggression pact with the United States before it abandons its nuclear arms program, while the United States wants North Korea to move quickly to scrap the nuclear program first.

Diplomats from the United States, Japan, South Korea, Russia, China, and North Korea met in Beijing in August for China-brokered talks on the crisis, which flared when Pyongyang admitted to continuing its nuclear program in October 2002.

Last week, Bush indicated for the first time that the United States might be prepared to offer informal security guarantees that the United States would not invade North Korea, in order to enable talks to continue. However, Washington has ruled out the signing of a formal non-aggression treaty.

"Perhaps there are other ways we can look at to say exactly what I've said publicly on paper with our partners' consent," Bush said after discussions on the issue with China's President Hu Jintao on the sidelines of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Bangkok.

He was also reported to have offered similar assurances to be relayed to Pyongyang via Chinese contacts.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a bilateral meeting with his Japanese counterpart, Junichiro Koizumi, that "there is a need to address North Korea's concerns for a guarantee of security in a proper form."

South Korea's unification minister Jeong Se-hyun said Thursday that he hoped Wu's visit would kick-start the process again. Wu is expected to meet the North's leader, Kim Jong Il, Jeong said.

He added that it was rare for North Korea to make an announcement before such a visit, and that Pyongyang was hinting that it could make a "vital decision" in connection with it.

The other parties to the talks are increasingly relying on Beijing's influence with its former ally, to bring North Korea back to the discussion table.

But even as it confirmed Wu's visit, Pyongyang said it was uninterested in any talks unless Washington agreed to a formal treaty.

"The situation will worsen and inexorably lead to war if the U.S. insists that we first abandon our nuclear program," said the North's state-run newspaper Rodong Sinmun in a commentary carried by KCNA. #####

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