TOKYO - Reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-il plans to visit China in mid-March, Kyodo news agency said on Thursday, as Washington sees signs that Pyongyang may end a year-long boycott of international nuclear disarmament talks.
Kim's trips to China, his destitute and isolated state's biggest benefactor and the closest thing it can claim as a major ally, have often led to moves that decrease the security threat Pyongyang poses to the economically vibrant region.
The visit would be his first since January 2006, when Kim toured China's commercial centres, and his first trip abroad since his recovery from a suspected stroke in 2008.
Kyodo quoted the sources as saying North Korea had sounded out China about a visit immediately after the March 14 end of the annual session of China's National People's Congress, which opens on Friday, and the two countries were coordinating the trip.
North Korea has come under pressure to return to six-party nuclear talks due to U.N. sanctions imposed after a May 2009 atomic test. The sanctions have dealt a blow to its wobbly economy, and a botched currency move late last year has sparked inflation and rare civil unrest.
South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan said on Wednesday that North Korea's top nuclear envoy, Kim Kye-gwan, planned to travel to the United States in early March and could hold discussions to restart dormant nuclear disarmament talks.
(Reporting by Linda Sieg; editing by Bill Tarrant)