SEOUL - Chinese President Hu Jintao has invited reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-il for a visit as Pyongyang has reached out to its foes and signalled it could return to dormant nuclear talks hosted by Beijing.
The invitation, made to a visiting official of the North's ruling Workers' Party, Choe Thae-bok, came in a meeting on Wednesday where the two countries pledged to strengthen ties as they celebrate 60 years of alliance.
At the meeting, comrade Hu Jintao asked Choe Thae-bok to convey his invitation to General Secretary Kim Jong-il to visit China at a time convenient to him, the North's official KCNA news agency said on Thursday.
Kim said during a visit to Pyongyang by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao earlier this month that his country would be willing to return to the six-way disarmament talks, but after holding direct talks with long-time adversary the United States.
A senior North Korean nuclear envoy is in the United States and meeting State Department officials on the sidelines of academic seminars. The meetings may be a prelude to a visit to Pyongyang by senior U.S. nuclear envoys, analysts said.
Japan's Yomiuri newspaper reported on Thursday that the State Department's North Korea desk chief, Sung Kim, and North Korean Ambassador Ri Gun reached a basic agreement this past weekend in New York to have U.S. special envoy Stephen Bosworth visit Pyongyang around the end of November to begin bilateral talks.
The daily, citing an unnamed source, also reported that the six-way talks could resume as early as the end of this year as North Korea's return to the talks was a prerequisite for any visit by senior U.S. officials to Pyongyang.
Kim's last trip to China was in January 2006. The secretive leader's few journeys abroad are almost never confirmed until the train carrying him crosses the border back into the North.
A trip to China in 2000 was soon followed by a summit in Pyongyang with South Korea's leader and the start of two major development projects in North Korea.
The 2006 visit did little to resolve the nuclear standoff and was followed by North Korea's first nuclear test about 10 months later.
(Reporting by Jack Kim and Yoko Nishikawa in Tokyo; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Sugita Katyal)