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N. Korea Leader Meets with Chinese Envoy - 2003-07-15

A Chinese presidential envoy has met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il amid growing tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program. The meeting comes a week after South Korea's president appealed to China to use its influence with the North.

The pressure from Beijing may have been in a message to North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il from China's President Hu Jintao. Chinese envoy Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo hand-delivered the letter Monday.

State media from both countries say the two men held in-depth talks, but gave no details.

The meeting comes just a week after South Korea's president visited China in the hope of getting Beijing's help in pushing North Korea toward multilateral talks on Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions. China hosted inconclusive talks last April that brought North Korea to the table with the United States.

China holds influence with North Korea - as a communist neighbor and critical source of food and energy aid to the impoverished and reclusive nation. China has said repeatedly it wants no nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula - but has taken a low-key public position.

The Chinese envoy's visit comes amid conflicting reports about how advanced North Korea's nuclear weapons program may be.

The latest report in the New York Times Tuesday quotes U.S. officials as saying North Korea told them last week that they have reprocessed enough fuel rods to make six nuclear bombs and it will do so quickly. However, South Korea's foreign minister said Monday there is no hard evidence to support North Korea's claim it had finished reprocessing all eight thousand spent nuclear fuel rods in June.

The nuclear fuel rods were part of a weapons program that North Korea halted under a 1994 deal with the United States. That deal unraveled after the United States accused North Korea last October of secretly having another nuclear weapons program - sparking the current stand-off.

North Korea says it has the right to build nuclear weapons because it is threatened by the heavily nuclear-armed United States and insists that its security can be assured only by making a deal with the United States.

Washington says North Korea promptly violated the last deal it signed with the United States, and demands multilateral talks with North Korea. U.S. officials think an agreement involving North Korea's neighbors Japan, South Korea, China, and Russia is less likely to be broken by Pyongyang.