BEIJING – China's president flew to North Korea on Friday to meet with reclusive leader Kim Jong Il (search) ahead of new nuclear talks and was greeted by cheering crowds of thousands on a rare visit by a leader of the North's last major ally.
President Hu Jintao (search)'s trip comes amid U.S. pressure for Beijing to do more to get the North to stop developing nuclear weapons. Analysts say the nuclear talks are likely to be on Hu's agenda, but China has not said what he will tell Kim about the issue.
Kim greeted Hu at Pyongyang (search)'s airport, and Chinese television showed tens of thousands of North Koreans lining the streets in welcome, waving flowers and small flags. Some appeared to have tears of joy in their eyes.
Chinese television estimated the size of the crowd at 100,000.
It is the first visit to North Korea by a Chinese leader since 2001. Kim visited Beijing in 2004.
Hu's statement "voiced his belief that under Kim's leadership, the DPRK people will score greater accomplishment in exploring a development path suited to its own conditions and building a strong and prosperous country," the agency said, referring to the North by the initials of its official name.
It said China's friendship with North Korea was "conducive to safeguarding peace and stability," Xinhua added.
China state TV showed the two leaders standing at the airport as North Korean troops goose-stepped in formation. Hu wore a dark blue business suit with a red tie while Kim wore a beige parka and matching pants, with his signature oversized sunglasses.
Hu was accompanied by China's Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and other officials, Xinhua said.
Li spoke by phone Thursday night with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the Foreign Ministry said. It said they discussed international affairs but gave no details.
Hu's North Korea visit is due to last through Sunday.
It comes as China is trying to organize a new round of six-nation talks in November on demands that North Korea give up nuclear development.
The talks also include the U.S., South Korea, Japan and Russia.
Pyongyang agreed at the last round of talks last month in Beijing to give up its nuclear programs in exchange for aid and a security guarantee.
But the North immediately raised doubts about its willingness to follow through on that promise, issuing a demand for a nuclear reactor for power generation before it disarms.
While Beijing says it wants a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, it has not pressured North Korea publicly.
The nuclear dispute erupted in late 2002 after U.S. officials said North Korea admitted violating a 1994 deal by embarking on a secret uranium enrichment program.