North Korea's Kim pledges to remove nuclear weapons

North Korea's leader pledged again to remove nuclear weapons from the peninsula, a news report said on Tuesday, and also sent his top nuclear envoy to Beijing in a move that could bode well for stalled disarmament talks.

While Kim Jong-il has made, and broken, similar pledges before, analysts said pressure has been mounting through UN sanctions imposed after its nuclear test last year, as well as a botched currency reform that the South said sparked inflation and rare civil unrest.

China's Xinhua news agency said Kim reiterated his country's "persistent stance to realise the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula" during a meeting on Monday with senior Chinese official Wang Jiarui.

North Korea's top nuclear negotiator, Kim Kye-gwan, arrived in Beijing on Tuesday, suggesting a possible resumption of stalled discussions hosted by China and including Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States.

"Dispatching Kim Kye-gwan indicates that some sort of understanding is being worked out between China and North Korea on restarting the nuclear talks," said Cheong Seong-Chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute think tank near Seoul.

China, the North's biggest benefactor, is seen as having the most influence on the reclusive state.

The destitute North can win aid to prop up its broken economy at the six-way talks if it reduces the security threat it poses to North Asia, which is responsible for one-sixth of the global economy.

However, few analysts believe Kim will ever scrap nuclear arms, which are seen at home as the crowning achievement in his military-first rule and the justification for decades of sacrifice by his impoverished people.

The North has said many times it could end its nuclear arms programme if the United States drops what it sees as a hostile policy toward it.

In another high-profile visit to the country, UN under-secretary-general for political affairs, Lynn Pascoe, was expected to arrive in Pyongyang on Tuesday.

 

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