After more than a year of refusals, North Korea has agreed to rejoin six-nation talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons programs. The announcement came as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in China for talks on the North's nuclear programs, and followed secret talks between U.S. and North Korean officials in Beijing.
North Korea announced it would return to the six-party talks the same evening U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Beijing to discuss with Chinese leaders how to get North Korea back to the negotiating table.
North Korea agreed to reopen talks after U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan held an unannounced meeting on Saturday in Beijing.
North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency said on Saturday that North Korea would return to six-party talks at the end of this month, indicating that North Korea was satisfied with Mr. Hill's reassurances that the United States has no hostile intentions toward the self-isolated nation.
The Korean Central News Agency said, "The U.S. side clarified its official stand to recognize the DPRK as a sovereign state, not to invade it and hold bilateral talks within the framework of the six-party talks."
The statement went on to indicate that North Korea interpreted Mr. Hill's comments as a "retraction" of Ms. Rice's earlier criticism of Pyongyang as an "outpost of tyranny."
However, getting North Korea to restart the stalled negotiations is one small step; convincing the communist state to verifiably abandon its nuclear efforts is a giant leap.
Shi Yinhong is a professor of international relations at the People's University in Beijing. He says, even if North Korea gets back to the negotiating table, it is still unlikely to give up its nuclear weapons ambitions.
"What kind of final prospect, and whether Kim Jong Il is willing to completely abandon his nuclear arms program - I suppose that [Chinese] leaders have not much confidence about that," he said. "And I personally take an even more pessimistic attitude toward the prospects."
China has hosted three inconclusive rounds of the six-nation talks. North Korea boycotted the nuclear talks after the third round in June of 2004 ended in a stalemate. The next round is to take place in Beijing at the end of the month.