Chinese officials report that a senior North Korean leader says his country wants to remain on track with six-nation negotiations on its nuclear ambitions. The comments would be a departure from earlier North Korean statements that the talks were useless and its push for talks with just the United States.
Frustrated over Pyongyang's refusal to attend nuclear talks last month, Chinese leaders have been using this visit by North Korean parliament leader Kim Yong Nam to press for a return to negotiations.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue briefed reporters before Mr. Kim's meeting with President Hu Jintao on Tuesday. She said Mr. Kim has indicated Pyongyang is willing to stick with the six-party talks to resolve the nuclear weapons dispute.
"Both China and North Korea agreed that the six-party talks is a good way and a good approach to promote resolution of the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue," said Zhang Qiyue. "North Korea thanked China's efforts to promote the six-party talks through dialogue."
China has offered an aid package to its deeply impoverished neighbor, in what analysts say is the latest in a series of incentives to keep the negotiations going.
The negotiations, which include Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, were expected to resume last month. North Korea refused to attend following revelations that South Korea had conducted secret nuclear experiments several years ago.
Even before that, however, Pyongyang had indicated it was reluctant to attend talks, saying they would be fruitless unless the United States changes what North Korea considers a hostile attitude. North Korea also has long made clear that it prefers to discuss the issue only with the United States.
There have been three inconclusive rounds of talks in Beijing over the past year.
Many analysts say North Korea, which demands aid and security guarantees in exchange for a nuclear freeze, prefers to wait until after the U.S. presidential elections next month before it continues with negotiations.
The United States demands that Pyongyang give up efforts to build nuclear weapons and says it will not reward the North with direct aid for merely fulfilling its international obligations on nonproliferation. However, U.S. officials in June said other nations could provide energy aid to the North in exchange for concrete steps toward dismantling its nuclear program.
Mr. Kim's visit to Beijing came amid intense diplomatic activity to salvage the six-way process. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell visits China next week as part of a tour that will also include Japan and South Korea.