North Korea said Thursday that it was ready to enter a new round of negotiations about its nuclear weapons program with the United States, China and other countries in the region. The announcement suggests that President Bush's offer last week to discuss a security guarantee may have been enough to revive the on-again, off-again dialogue with North Korea.
North Korea agreed "in principle" to new talks, according to Chinese Central Television's main news broadcast, which announced the results of a two-day visit to Pyongyang, North Korea's capital, by a top-level Chinese delegation.
After Thursday's announcement by the Chinese, the official North Korean news agency issued a more qualified endorsement of talks, expressing a willingness to take part "if they provide a process of putting into practice the proposal for a package solution based on the principle of simultaneous actions."
The White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, said Thursday that the Bush administration was "encouraged by the reports we have seen that North Korea has agreed in principle" to continue the regional talks.
Chinese television showed Wu Bangguo, China's parliamentary leader and the second-highest ranking official in the Communist Party, meeting with Kim Jong Il, the North Korean leader, during his visit. Wu was thought to have made the trip to North Korea only after the Chinese received signals that the North Koreans were ready to resume negotiations, and Thursday's announcement appears to confirm China's confidence that the talks will resume despite having made scant progress during two previous rounds.
"Both sides agreed in principle that the six-way talks should continue," the lead anchor said at the top of the Chinese broadcast.
North Korean officials and the state-controlled news media often make conflicting statements about the country's intentions to negotiate with the United States and other parties, sometimes taking stances that pointedly contradict positions put forward days or even hours earlier.
North Korea could well backtrack once again, particularly if it finds the terms of a new round of negotiations unfavorable.
But China's prominent announcement of the agreement suggests that Beijing has a high degree of confidence in North Korea's intentions. Though relations between China and North Korea are strained, China still has the most economic and political leverage over North Korea.