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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 October, 2003, 08:05 GMT
Top Chinese leader in N Korea
Wu Bangguo
Wu's visit comes at a key moment
A top Chinese leader has arrived in North Korea in what is seen as an attempt to break the deadlock over the North's nuclear weapons ambitions.

Wu Bangguo, head of China's parliament and second in the Communist government's hierarchy, is the most senior Chinese figure to visit the country since the confrontation with the United States began last year.

He arrived in Pyongyang at the head of a delegation of diplomats and military officials.

Senior economic advisers were also present, encouraging speculation that China was ready to help with Pyongyang's floundering economy, if talks on the nuclear issue were to resume.

SIX PARTY TALKS
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Japan
China
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Russia

North Korean state media said the visit would mark a new chapter in relations with China.

"The traditional North Korea-China friendship is an unfailing friendship, forged by the leaders of the two countries," said the Rodong Sinmun newspaper

China is one of North Korea's few friends and provides more than two-thirds of its food and fuel aid.

Beijing has been alarmed by the growing tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.

It played a key role in bringing North Korea to the negotiating table for three-way talks, along with the US, in April.

That paved the way for six-country regional talks in Beijing in August.

After those discussions proved inconclusive, the North said it was pushing ahead with its nuclear weapons development, and threatened to show off its nuclear capabilities.

During Mr Wu's visit, the Chinese are expected to try and persuade North Korean leaders to resume talks with both the United States, and its neighbours, Japan and South Korea.

South Korean officials have said Chinese intervention could be decisive.

Treaty

The crisis erupted in October 2002, when the United States said Pyongyang had admitted to running a covert nuclear programme.

Earlier in the year, President George W Bush described North Korea as being part of an "axis of evil," along with Iran and pre-war Iraq.

Pyongyang is believed to already have one or two nuclear devices and recently said it extracted plutonium from spent nuclear fuel rods to build more.

Washington wants the North to dismantle its nuclear weapons programme immediately.

Pyongyang said it would do this if Washington signed a non-aggression treaty agreeing not to launch a pre-emptive attack.

This month, President Bush said the US was prepared to sign a document pledging not to attack North Korea, but he stopped short of promising a formal treaty.

North Korea has indicated it will consider his offer.




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