SEOUL, South Korea — A senior Chinese official left for North Korea on Saturday, a news report said, in what is seen as a mission to jump-start stalled international talks on ending the reclusive state's nuclear weapons programs.
Wang Jiarui, head of the liaison office of China's ruling Communist Party, and his delegation left for a goodwill visit, China's official Xinhua News Agency reported, without elaborating.
Wang is to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and deliver a message from Chinese President Hu Jintao, South Korea's Dong-a Ilbo newspaper reported Saturday, citing unidentified South Korean presidential officials.
The four-day trip is part of a regular exchange of visits by the longtime allies, it said.
Calls to the presidential office seeking comment went unanswered Saturday.
Wang met Kim during a January 2009 trip to Pyongyang. Kim said then that North Korea was "dedicated to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula" and wanted to move international talks forward, according to Beijing's Xinhua News Agency.
China is North Korea's biggest trading partner, a key aid donor and a longtime ally dating back to the 1950-53 Korean War. Its influence is seen as crucial in getting the North to return to the six-nation disarmament talks, which have been stalled since late 2008.
Also Saturday, a special envoy for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Seoul and said he had an "excellent discussion" with South Korean officials ahead of a visit to North Korea.
During his Feb. 9-12 trip to Pyongyang, U.N. political chief B. Lynn Pascoe will urge North Korea to rejoin the nuclear talks and discuss its relations with the world body, a U.N. official in New York said on condition of anonymity, citing policy.
"We expect to talk about the entire range of issues while we are up there (in North Korea)," Pascoe told reporters in Seoul, without elaborating. He was to meet with South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan later Saturday.
North Korea, which tested an atomic bomb last year and is believed to have enough weaponized plutonium for at least a half dozen more, walked away from the disarmament talks last year.
The other participants, China, the U.S., Japan, South Korea and Russia, have been trying to get the talks back on track. North Korea, however, has pushed Washington for a peace treaty to formally end the Korean War and a lifting of sanctions first.
This week, Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said no discussion about political or economic sanctions can take place before the disarmament talks are back on.
There also has been speculation in recent weeks that North Korean leader Kim may travel to China soon. Beijing extended an invitation to Kim last year to visit at his convenience. (AP)
Kim has visited China and Russia, the North's two major remaining allies, by train. He last traveled to China in 2006.
He had planned to travel to Beijing in late January but canceled his plans, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said.