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Last Updated: Wednesday, 24 March, 2004, 10:42 GMT
Chinese minister in N Korea
By Charles Scanlon
BBC, Seoul

North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong-il has met the visiting Chinese foreign minister for talks that were expected to focus on the North's nuclear weapons programmes.

Satellite photo of Yongbyon nuclear reactor
North Korea's nuclear programmes are on the agenda
China is seen as the key mediator in a nuclear confrontation between North Korea and the United States that is now in its 17th month.

It was the first visit by a Chinese foreign minister to North Korea for five years.

Li Zhaoxing received a tour of a new free market in the capital, Pyongyang and then met the country's elusive leader, Kim Jong-il.

China described it as a very important contact that would achieve important results. North Korea said the talks were held in a warm atmosphere.

There were no details, but the region is looking to China to nudge its old communist ally to make concessions over its nuclear weapons programmes.

China has taken a rare diplomatic lead to try to mediate a peaceful solution. But progress so far has been painfully slow.

The North seems in no hurry to arrange new talks which were agreed at the last meeting with its neighbours and the United States last month.

North Korea has since threatened to increase the quality and the quantity of its nuclear deterrent. The US estimates it already has two atomic bombs, enough material to make five or six more and a second hidden nuclear weapons programme.

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