BEIJING (Reuters) – North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il made a rare appearance to greet visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at the start of a trip which swiftly yielded a statement that North Korea was willing to discuss its nuclear weapons.
A report from China’s Xinhua news agency said Premier Wen was greeted at the airport by Kim, the secretive leader who dominates big decisions in his country.
In the evening, Kim accompanied Wen to a Korean opera performance adapted from Dream of the Red Mansions, an 18th-century Chinese romantic novel, Xinhua reported.
Wen also held talks with North Korean Premier Kim Yong-Il who told him Pyongyang was open to talks on its nuclear weapons programme, which has drawn United Nations Security Council sanctions backed by Beijing.
Kim Jong-il’s unusual outings, as well as the calming words from Premier Kim, were a show of how serious North Korea is about shoring up brittle ties with Beijing, which gives its poor neighbour crucial economic help and diplomatic backing.
Kim Jong-il is widely believed to have suffered a serious illness last year, and it is rare for him to personally greet an arriving visitor. Even audiences are uncommon.
Wen’s three-day trip coincides with the 60th anniversary of formal ties between the two communist neighbours.
But analysts said China, the closest North Korea has to an ally, would not send such a senior visitor unless it had some assurance from Pyongyang that could ease tensions over its nuclear weapons activities, following a second nuclear test and its claims to have made progress in enriching uranium.