Wen sets nuclear talks with NKorea

SEOUL: Visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was set for more talks Monday aimed at coaxing North Korea back to nuclear disarmament negotiations, after Pyongyang restated its openness to dialogue.

The North's leader Kim Jong-Il personally hosted an elaborate red-carpet airport welcome for Wen Sunday, but it was unclear whether Beijing would persuade its ally to rejoin the six-party talks it quit in April.

In talks Sunday with Premier Kim Yong-Il and other senior officials, the North again expressed willingness to achieve denuclearisation through "bilateral and multilateral dialogues", Pyongyang's state media reported early Monday.

The North, however, also blamed the United States for the standoff and linked denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula to the pace of global atomic disarmament efforts.

China, the United States and the North's other negotiating partners -- South Korea, Japan and Russia -- want it to come back to six-party talks hosted by Beijing.

Pyongyang strained ties with Beijing when it staged its second nuclear test in May, after quitting the six-party talks the previous month. China supported tougher United Nations sanctions imposed following the test.

Since August the North has made peace overtures to the United States and South Korea, in what some analysts see as an attempt to ease the impact of sanctions.

But the North has lately been stressing its claim that it needs atomic weapons as a shield against US hostility. It also demands formal recognition as a nuclear-armed state, something Washington and Seoul have adamantly rejected.

Six-party deals which the North agreed in 2005 and 2007 refer only to nuclear disarmament on the Korean peninsula, not in the wider world. The United States withdrew atomic weaponry from South Korea in the early 1990s.

Wen said Sunday that "dialogue and consultation" is the only way to solve the peninsula's nuclear issue, according to China's official Xinhua news agency.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the Chinese premier is expected to hold talks later Monday with leader Kim Jong-Il. The agency has predicted Kim could make an "important announcement" during Wen's visit.

It said he was expected to state willingness to give up nuclear weapons and make detailed suggestions, while delivering his position on whether he wants six-party talks or a different type of dialogue.

The North is pressing for bilateral talks with the US to end the nuclear standoff. Washington says such talks are possible but only if their goal is to restart the six-party forum.

China has termed Wen's visit a "goodwill" trip to mark the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations, but nuclear issues are clearly high on the agenda.

Wen is the most senior Chinese figure to visit the North since President Hu Jintao in 2005.

He is accompanied on his three-day visit by Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and Wu Dawei, China's envoy to the stalled six-nation talks.