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North Korea's Kim Ends Secretive China Trip - 2004-04-21

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il has concluded a secretive, three-day visit to Beijing, where he agreed to carry on with negotiations to end his country's nuclear standoff with the United States.

At the end of his three-day visit, Chinese state television ran a report showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Il making a rare public comment overseas. Mr. Kim apologized for not having visited China for three years, and said the entire Central Communist Party [in North Korea] also feels sorry.

Although he arrived in Beijing on Sunday, Chinese officials and state media did not confirm the visit until Wednesday, after Mr. Kim had left on his train to return to Pyongyang.

Chinese officials said Mr. Kim made an unofficial visit to Beijing, and had exchanged views with Chinese leaders on the North Korean nuclear-weapons issue.

Television news showed images of the North Korean leader embracing President Hu Jintao, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and other senior officials at Beijing's Great Hall of the People.

The Chinese state news agency, Xinhua, said Mr. Kim agreed to carry on with multilateral negotiations on ending his country's nuclear weapons programs.

His visit followed a trip to China by Vice President Dick Cheney last week. Mr. Cheney told Chinese leaders it is becoming more urgent to move forward with the process of getting North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs.

China has held two rounds of multilateral negotiations on the matter. Both ended inconclusively, and Beijing is eager to move the process along. Analysts say Mr. Kim's visit gave the Chinese leadership a chance to prod North Korea on resolving the problems.

Lee Jung-hoon, a professor of international relations at Yonsei University in South Korea says, "I would think there might have been some pressure from the Chinese leadership on Kim Jong Il to relent a little bit in terms of relinquishing [its] nuclear weapons program."

Diplomats say Mr. Kim may have come to Beijing with the hope of getting economic aid and other incentives from China in exchange for agreeing to further negotiations. China - which is North Korea's chief supplier of food and fuel - has offered economic and trade packages to Pyongyang in the past while trying to convince it to join negotiations.

The standoff began in October 2002 when U.S. officials said North Korea had admitted having a secret nuclear-weapons program in violation of international agreements. The United States demands that North Korea verifiably and completely dismantle its nuclear programs. North Korea insists on getting economic and security guarantees first.