BEIJING — Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang on Sunday, kicking off a three-day visit that could indicate whether reclusive North Korea will return to the negotiating table over its nuclear weapons program.
Chinese state media released photographs of Wen being greeted at Sunan International Airport by Kim, who was wearing his signature sunglasses and khaki suit. Kim's presence challenged speculation that he was losing his grip on the regime after reports that he was battling pancreatic cancer.
The high-level talks were described as a way to strengthen bilateral ties by signing agreements over trade, education and tourism as well as to mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, the official New China News Agency said.
It was unclear what issues were discussed between Wen and Kim, but Chinese pressure is considered one of the keys to persuading Pyongyang to resume the six-nation nuclear-disarmament talks that it abandoned in April. The talks include the United States, China, Russia, Japan, North Korea and South Korea.
China is North Korea's chief link to the outside world both diplomatically and economically, with about $2.8 billion in two-way trade last year. However, Beijing has favored a non-nuclear neighbor and supported United Nations sanctions against North Korea after it conducted a nuclear test earlier this year. The sanctions target the sales and financing of arms to Pyongyang and largely do not interfere with China's commercial ties to North Korea.
According to news reports, senior State Department official Philip Goldberg is in the Middle East this week trying to establish strict enforcement of U.N. sanctions against North Korea for fear Pyongyang could funnel arms to terrorists.