By Philip P. Pan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
BEIJING, Jan. 10 -- The reclusive leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Il, was reported to be traveling in China and perhaps Russia on Tuesday, after his government refused again to return to six-nation talks on dismantling its nuclear weapons program unless the United States stops targeting its finances.
The Chinese government and the North Korean Embassy here declined to confirm Kim's visit, maintaining the secrecy that has marked his three previous trips to China. But an official in the border city of Dandong said a special train from North Korea carrying Kim crossed into the country under high security on Monday.
News agencies in South Korea and Japan, citing diplomatic and intelligence sources in Seoul and Beijing, also reported Kim's visit, adding that he was expected to spend four to five days in China and meet with President Hu Jintao to discuss the stalled nuclear talks and bilateral economic cooperation.
But the Reuters news agency said Kim's train passed through China on Tuesday en route to Russia. Kim did not meet with any Chinese leaders, but might do so on his way back, the report said, citing an unnamed source.
In Moscow, a Russian Foreign Ministry source said reports that Kim was en route to Russia "don't have any grounds," the Interfax news agency said Tuesday.
The trip, apparently Kim's first journey abroad since a visit to Beijing in April 2004, comes only three months after Hu traveled to North Korea in October. Diplomats and other analysts said another summit between the two leaders so soon would be unusual and suggest a sense of urgency, adding that Kim may be seeking Hu's support in the nuclear standoff.
North Korea has refused to return to the six-party talks, scheduled to resume in Beijing early this year, unless the United States lifts restrictions on firms the Bush administration says are involved in counterfeiting, money-laundering and drug-trafficking by the North Korean government.
"The U.S. is applying financial sanctions against the DPRK in an effort to destroy the system in the DPRK by stopping its blood from running," a spokesman for North Korea's Foreign Ministry said in a statement Monday, referring to the country by the initials of its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. "Is there any need to have talks under the situation where the U.S. is enforcing such a policy?"
The timing of the statement, on the eve of a rare trip abroad by Kim, suggests the Communist leader may be threatening to abandon the six-party talks over the issue.
The talks, which are hosted by China and include the United States, Japan, Russia and the two Koreas, began in 2003 and resulted in a general agreement in September in which North Korea promised to disarm in exchange for aid, diplomatic recognition and security guarantees. So far, negotiators have not worked out a plan to implement the deal.
Correspondent Peter Finn in Moscow contributed to this report.