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Kim 'flexible' on nuke standoff

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North Korean leader in China for talks.
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Kim Jong Il
North Korea
South Korea

BEIJING, China -- North Korea's Kim Jong Il has told Chinese leaders he wants to end the nuclear standoff through dialogue and promised patience and flexibly in resolving the issue, Beijing says.

Kim's commitment to a "nuclear weapon-free goal" was made during an unannounced three-day visit to China, which ended on Wednesday, China's state-run media reported.

The reports, issued only after Kim left China, broke a news blackout on the trip and were Beijing's first public confirmation of the visit. South Korean media had, however, widely reported the visit.

Television images showed Kim hugging Chinese President Hu Jintao. He also met former president and current head of the military Jiang Zemin, Premier Wen Jiabao and other top leaders.

Kim said during his meeting with Hu that North Korea "sticks to the final nuclear-weapon-free goal and its basic position on seeking a peaceful solution through dialogue has not changed," Xinhua reported.

"The DPRK side will continue to take a patient and flexible manner and actively participate in the six-party talks process and make its own contributions to the progress of the talks," Xinhua quoted Kim as saying.

So far, two rounds of talks involving North and South Korea, China, the United States, Japan and Russia have failed to make any inroads towards an end to the nuclear crisis.

China hosted both rounds and said the parties were keen to meet again in July, but unspecified circumstances were so far preventing the meet, officials said.

The United States demands that North Korea dismantle its nuclear facilities unconditionally but Pyongyang insists on security guarantees that it will not be attacked before it abandons its atomic weapons programs.

China is North Korea's last major ally and has been instrumental in bringing Pyongyang back to the negotiating table over the standoff.

Kim rarely travels abroad, and only by train when he does. His visit comes less than a week after U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney met Chinese officials in Beijing and also focused on the nuclear issue.

Cheney presented Beijing with new evidence of Pyongyang's nuclear arms programs and told Chinese leaders "time was not necessarily on our side" in resolving the crisis.

Reports in South Korea's media said Chinese leaders urged Kim to soften his nuclear ambitions.

Talks were also dominated by requests from Chinese officials for North Korea to pay attention to economic reforms. North Korea is in dire economic straits and is largely reliant on foreign aid.

Ending the nuclear crisis is key to unlocking frozen outside aid to the North Korean economy.

During Kim's trip, which was shrouded in secrecy, the North Korean leader also visited a model high-income farm, dined on Peking duck and visited the municipality of Tianjin, state media reported.

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