North Korean leader Kim Jong Il could visit China later this month, a ruling party lawmaker said on Tuesday, amid speculation the trip could help revive stalled talks aimed at ending Pyongyang’s nuclear programmes.
If mr. Kim visits China, it could be around April 25, considering various schedules, Chung Chin-sup, a lawmaker of the ruling Grand National Party said, after being briefed by Seoul’s intelligence chief earlier in the day. He did not elaborate.
South Korean media have speculated on the timing of a trip, noting Chinese President Hu Jintao plans to visit Washington on April 12-13 for a nuclear security summit before heading to South America on April 14-18.
Also, North Korea marks the birthday of Mr. Kim’s father - late North Korean founder Kim Il Sung - that falls on April 15, and its rubber stamp parliament is scheduled to convene on Friday.
An official of the National Intelligence Service said his agency could not confirm comments made in a closed-door parliamentary session. He asked not to be named, citing internal policy.
South Korea’s presidential office announced last week there was a high possibility a visit was in the works. A presidential spokesman told reporters on Tuesday he had no further information about Mr. Kim’s possible trip.
Mr. Kim could delay the trip until after April 18, when Mr. Hu wraps up his trip to the U.S. and South America, South Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper reported, citing an unidentified source in Beijing.
Tuesday was seen as the last possible date in early April for Mr. Kim to visit China, considering Mr. Hu’s travel schedules and Friday’s session of North Korea’s parliament, the newspaper said.
South Korea’s cable news channel YTN carried a similar report, saying the possibility of a trip in early April has lessened because of diplomatic and legislative calendars in China and North Korea.
Media reports on Mr. Kim’s possible visit also come amid speculation the 68-year-old leader is preparing to hand power over to his youngest son, the Swiss-educated Kim Jong Un, believed to be in his mid-20s.
Kim Jong Il - known for shunning air travel - last visited China in January 2006.
North Korea quit disarmament-for-aid negotiations and conducted a second nuclear test last year, drawing tightened U.N. sanctions. North Korea has demanded a lifting of the sanctions and peace talks formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War before it returns to the negotiating table.
The nuclear talks, which involve the U.S., the two Koreas, China, Russia and Japan, were last held in Beijing in December 2008.
Separately, the North appointed So Se Phyong as its new ambassador to Switzerland, the country’s official Korean Central News Agency said in a one-sentence report on Tuesday. No details were given.
The announcement came a month after South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported the North planned to replace Ri Tcheul, So’s predecessor.
Mr. Ri, one of Kim Jong Il’s closest associates, was believed to be a key manager of the leader’s alleged secret funds said to be stashed overseas.
Mr. Kim is believed to have stashed away billions of dollars in Switzerland, Hong Kong, Singapore and other countries to finance the North’s weapons programmes, buy lavish gifts for his top deputies to ensure their loyalty and maintain a luxurious lifestyle, according to South Korean media reports and experts.