Published July 14, 2003
SEOUL, South Korea – North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (search) met with an envoy of Chinese President Hu Jintao (search) on Monday amid tension over Pyongyang's (search) suspected development of nuclear weapons, a North Korean news report said.
China Deputy Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo (search) reportedly urged Kim to accept U.S.-proposed multilateral talks aimed at resolving a nine-month standoff over Pyongyang's pursuit of nuclear weapons.
The meeting in the North Korean capital came amid conflicting reports that Pyongyang has taken a key step toward making nuclear bombs.
Last week, Seoul's intelligence chief said Pyongyang may have reprocessed a small number of its spent nuclear fuel rods. On Sunday, South Korean media said North Korea had told U.S. officials it had finished reprocessing all 8,000 rods, which yield weapons-grade plutonium.
The New York Times quoted senior U.S. officials as saying the the North told the Bush administration last week that it has finished producing enough plutonium to make a half-dozen nuclear bombs and that they intended to move quickly to turn the material into weapons.
But American intelligence agencies have scant evidence that North Korea has produced enough plutonium to build a nuclear weapon, the newspaper said in a report on its Web site.
On Monday, South Korean foreign minister said there is no evidence that Pyongyang started reprocessing at full scale or has completed the process.
China, reclusive North Korea's leading ally, has repeatedly said it wants a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons.
A brief report by Pyongyang's KCNA news agency did not say what was discussed between Kim and Dai, who gave Kim a letter from the Chinese president.
But the Japanese national daily Asahi Shimbun reported Tuesday that Dai urged Kim to accept U.S.-proposed multilateral talks including Japan, South Korea and China to resolve the nuclear standoff.
The North Korean leader resisted Japan's participation, but was open to having South Korea join in, the newspaper said, citing unnamed Chinese sources. China arranged three-way talks between itself, Washington and Pyongyang in Beijing in April.
Pyongyang wants one-on-one talks with Washington, but has recently said it may agree to multilateral talks after direct talks with the United States.
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, after his visit to China last week, said Beijing vowed to play an active and constructive role in resolving the nuclear standoff peacefully.
The nuclear standoff flared last October when U.S. officials said Pyongyang admitted having a secret nuclear program, in violations of international agreements.
Reprocessing all 8,000 fuel rods could yield enough plutonium for several atomic bombs within months, adding to the North's suspected arsenal of one or two nuclear bombs, experts say.
Since April, North Korea has claimed that it had all but finished reprocessing the rods.
South Korea is enlisting China's help in peacefully resolving the nuclear standoff. China, which supports North Korea with food and fuel, has said it wants a Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons.
North Korea says it's willing to resolve U.S. security concerns if Washington provides security guarantees. The North is also desperate for economic aid.