Oct 20, 6:20 AM (ET)
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Il expressed regret about his country's nuclear test to a Chinese delegation and said Pyongyang would return to international nuclear talks if Washington backs off a campaign to financially isolate the country, a South Korean newspaper reported Friday.
"If the U.S. makes a concession to some degree, we will also make a concession to some degree, whether it be bilateral talks or six-party talks," Kim was quoted as telling a Chinese envoy, the mass-circulation Chosun Ilbo reported, citing a diplomatic source in China.
Kim told the Chinese delegation that "he is sorry about the nuclear test," the newspaper reported.
The delegation led by State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan met Kim on Thursday and returned to Beijing later that day - ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's arrival in the Chinese capital Friday. China is viewed as a key nation in efforts to persuade the North to disarm, as it is the isolated communist nation's main trading partner.
(This is how it's going to play out: If you think the Yanks and the Japanese are dismayed at the thought of the North Koreans having the bomb, imagine how China, with a land border with NK, and Beijing a short SCUD ride away, feels? At best, the Chinese are going to drag Kim to the bargaining table, and the little nutbar is going to cut a deal that he sticks to. At second-best, the Chinese will backa coup. At worst -- but certainly not a poor bet -- the Chinese will go in, the way they did -- or tried to -- in Vietnam in 1979.
End result: no nuclear-armed North Korea. China finally emerges as unchallenged power broker in the region, with a fistfull of markers to call with the U.S. and the undying gratitude of everyone in Long Dong range.