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North Korean Leader Kim Jong Il Meets Jiang Zemin in Beijing - 2004-04-20

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has met with senior Chinese leaders during his secretive visit to Beijing. Officials on both sides have refused to discuss the visit.

What little information emerged on Kim Jong Il's visit to Beijing came from South Korean media. Reports said the North Korean leader's schedule included a meeting with former President Jiang Zemin, who remains highly influential as the head of China's central military commission.

One newspaper in Seoul reported Mr. Kim told Chinese leaders that North Korea is willing to give up its nuclear program if the United States abandoned its "hostile attitude." That is a stance North Korean officials have often repeated.

Vice President Dick Cheney visited Beijing last week and told Chinese officials it is becoming more urgent for all sides to resolve the North Korean nuclear dispute quickly.

U.S. officials said China had informed them of reports that Mr. Kim is in Beijing. When asked if the United States had asked China to serve as an intermediary with Mr. Kim, a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said China knows the U.S. position well since it was reaffirmed during Mr. Cheney's visit.

The United States demands that North Korea dismantle its nuclear-weapons program in a complete and verifiable manner. North Korea demands security and economic guarantees first. Washington said 18 months ago that Pyongyang admitted having a weapons program, despite its international pledges to remain nuclear free.

China, which has hosted two rounds of multi-party talks on the North Korean nuclear issue, is eager to see the matter resolved. Analysts say Beijing views this visit by Kim Jong Il as an important opportunity to try to influence the North Korean leader.

"The Chinese may be willing to apply some pressure to get him to compromise," said Daniel Bob, who is with the U.S.-based National Institute for Research Advancement. "They would like to move this process forward because it is very much in their interest to have a stable northeast Asia. Only with stability in the region can the Chinese further their economic growth, which is one of their number-one priorities."

Analysts speculate China may offer the impoverished North Korea additional economic incentives to reach a deal on nuclear dismantlement.

Despite the continuing standoff on the nuclear issue, North and South Korean delegations gathered near Seoul for talks on expanding economic ties between the rival nations. The economic talks were delayed several weeks, after Pyongyang said political instability in South Korea made it unsafe to hold the talks in the South.