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N. Korean leader transits China on return trip from Russia

BEIJING, Aug. 25 (Yonhap) -- The train carrying the North Korean leader was spotted at a Chinese railway station Thursday, an indication that Kim Jong-il plans to return from his trip to Russia via China.

Sources said that the special train was seen stopping at the Manzhouli Railway Station in Inner Mongolia at around 6:14 p.m. before it headed east again. During the short stop, there were several people who may have been Chinese officials waiting on the train platform.

The decision to cross Chinese territory may be a move to shorten Kim's train ride back to his country after his summit meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev at a military base on the outskirts of the eastern Siberian city of Ulan-Ude on Wednesday. Crossing China can reduce the train ride by roughly 1,500 kilometers and 20 hours.

t was not immediately clear whether Kim would hold talks with Chinese leaders as his train rolls across China, although there is a chance that such a meeting could take place.

Kim's arrival in China marks the fourth time in the last 15 months that the North Korean leader has traversed Chinese soil, with his last trip taking place in May.

Sources said that Kim may stop at Harbin and Changchun, which are major cities in the region, although he may head straight for the North Korea-China border.

If he stops, and a meeting takes place, it may be in the form of a debriefing on his summit with the Russian leader.

Experts said that if a meeting takes place, it may not be with top Chinese leaders, but likely involve "second-tier" officials, with Kim touching on the need for development of the Rason special economic zone on the North's eastern coast near the Chinese and Russian border. Talks could concern building up areas along the Tumen River region.

On the Kim-Medvedev summit that could be the focal point of talks with Chinese officials, the North's official Korean Central News Agency said Thursday in a dispatch from Pyongyang that the two leaders shared the view that the six-party talks should be resumed without any preconditions at an early date. The six-party talks involving the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and China aim to end North Korea's nuclear weapons programs through peaceful negotiations.

The dispatch, however, did not mention Kim's reported promise to impose a moratorium on tests and production of nuclear weapons if the disarmament-for-aid talks resume.

The North quit the talks in 2009, though it has since repeatedly expressed its desire to return to the talks that involve South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan.

South Korea's chief nuclear envoy, Wi Sung-lac, meanwhile, arrived in Beijing earlier in the day for one-day talks with his Chinese counterpart on how to move the nuclear talks forward.