Kim visits China as Carter waits in Pyongyang

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The flooding earlier this month damaged or destroyed more than 7,000 homes, and wiped out bridges and railways, the North’s official Korean Central News Agency reported Thursday. China has already offered aid to help North Korea cope, KCNA said.

The North faces chronic food shortages and has relied on outside aid to feed its people. Seeking to improve its meager economy, Pyongyang has experimented with limited market reforms and sought foreign investment, mostly from China and South Korea. But joint projects with South Korea have withered in the face of tensions, heightening Pyongyang’s reliance on Beijing.

For its part, China is certain to use Kim’s visit as an opportunity to prod North Korea toward rejoining international talks aimed at nuclear disarmament.

China has hosted the six-nation talks since 2002 but North Korea walked away from them last year in protest over the international condemnation that followed its testing of a long-range missile. Prospects for restarting negotiations were undermined further after a South Korean warship sank in March, killing 46 sailors. Seoul and Washington accuse North Korea of torpedoing the vessel, while the North denies involvement and has threatened harsh retaliation if punished.

It is not known who Mr. Kim was to meet on this trip, although someone of his stature would likely meet a senior leader. The Tokyo Shimbun reported that Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping was headed to Jilin to meet Mr. Kim.

Still, North Korea watchers puzzled over the timing of the visit — so soon after his last trip to China and during Mr. Carter’s visit.

“He should be seeing Carter, but perhaps he has lost all hope in the U.S.” said Cui Yingjiu, a retired professor of Korean language at Peking University in Beijing who was a schoolmate of Mr. Kim’s in the 1960s and retains ties to the North Korean elite.

U.S. officials have stressed that Mr. Carter’s trip is an unofficial, private visit to negotiate the release of 31-year-old Aijalon Gomes, an American sentenced to eight years of hard labor in a North Korean prison and fined some $700,000 for entering the country illegally.

However, such visits, like the journey by ex-President Bill Clinton a year ago to secure the release of two American journalists, also offer an opportunity for unofficial diplomacy between the U.S. and North Korea.

Analysts said Mr. Carter and Mr. Kim could still meet Friday, after Mr. Kim returns to Pyongyang and before Mr. Carter’s departure.

Associated Press writer Jean H. Lee and Kwang-tae Kim in Seoul and AP researcher Zhao Liang in Beijing contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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