msnbc.com news services
updated 8/23/2006 9:46:28 PM ET 2006-08-24T01:46:28

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il may visit key ally China next week amid heightened concern over a possible nuclear weapons test by the reclusive state and its defiant missile launch in July, a news report said on Thursday.

Kim’s visit will be primarily to discuss the North’s possible nuclear test with Chinese President Hu Jintao, the daily Chosun Ilbo reported a diplomatic source in Seoul as saying.

“Authorities in Seoul and Washington were briefed that Kim Jong-il is to take a three-day trip to China around Aug. 30,” the source told the newspaper.

Officials at South Korea’s foreign ministry could not immediately be reached for comment.

North Korea defied international warnings and test-fired seven missiles on July 5, including a long-range Taepodong-2 that experts say could one day hit parts of U.S. territory. China voted for a U.N. Security Council resolution criticizing the test.

A U.S. news report last week said the North was also preparing to conduct its first nuclear weapons test. South Korea’s foreign minister said on Wednesday such a test was a possibility.
“Chances are that Kim will visit China next week in relation with North Korea’s possible nuclear test,” the paper cited another diplomatic source as saying.

Some doubt Kim trip
Experts on the North were skeptical about a Kim visit to China, saying Beijing was hardly in a welcoming mood because of what it sees as unnecessarily provocative moves by the North with its weapons programs.

Kim rarely travels abroad, but he went on a stealthy visit to China in January and took a look at the places that helped drive China’s economic development.

Kim was also not likely to be seeking out China now, its main benefactor and single remaining key ally, an expert said, because of disappointment over what he sees as a failure by Beijing to convince Washington to drop a financial crackdown against it.

Talks by six countries aimed at ending the North’s nuclear weapons program have been stalled since November due to a U.S. crackdown on firms it suspects of aiding North Korea in illicit activities, such as counterfeiting.

Pyongyang said it would be unthinkable for it to return to the nuclear talks while Washington is trying to topple its leaders through financial pressure.

Roh to visit in October
Meanwhile, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun will visit China in mid-October to discuss North Korea's nuclear weapons program with Hu, the foreign minister said Thursday.

Roh will "hold close consultations with Hu on North Korea's nuclear weapons program as well as bilateral economic cooperation," Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon said in a speech at private research institute.

Ban didn't give further details on the summit schedule.

The summit comes amid flurry of new diplomatic efforts to coax North Korea back to the stalled disarmament talks on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.

South Korean presidential security adviser Song Min-soon will make a two-day trip to China starting Thursday for talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and other officials on "recent issues concerning North Korea's missiles and nuclear program as well as other affairs in Northeast Asia," according to the president's office.

Japan's top nuclear envoy, Kenichiro Sasae, held talks with South Korean officials on a similar issue. He was to meet his South Korean counterpart, Chun Yung-woo, before returning home later in the day.

North Korea has refused to return to nuclear disarmament talks until the United States lifts restrictions imposed on the communist regime for its alleged counterfeiting and money laundering.

South Korea and the United States have urged the hard-line regime to return to the talks without conditions, saying it is a law enforcement issue unrelated to the nuclear standoff.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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