U.S. officials are scheduled to meet next week with members of the North Korean government for the first time since December's death of Kim Jong-Il.
The Obama administration's special representative for North Korea Glyn Davies will lead a U.S. delegation to Beijing for talks with North Korean officials led by First Vice Minister Kim Kye-Gwan.
The February 23 talks are aimed at restarting negotiations to end Pyongyang's controversial nuclear program.
State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland says Washington and its allies want to see if North Korea is prepared to fulfill commitments made in a 2005 agreement under which Pyongyang agreed to give up its nuclear program in return for aid. "We thought that it was a good time to see where they are, and it makes good sense to give them an opportunity to see if they are ready to answer the questions that we have," she said.
North Korea pulled out of that aid-for-disarmament deal in 2009.
This month's talks will be the first with members of a government led by Kim Jong Un, who took power following his father's death in December. Nuland says North Korean officials know well what questions need answers since that has not changed since the last round of talks. "I can not speak to whether we are going to hear anything new or whether they are more ready than they were in December. But they had a decent interval after the mourning period to assemble their position, so we are hopeful that they are ready to respond to some of the things we asked about," she said.
Before agreeing to this session in Beijing, Nuland says Washington consulted with others in the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program - South Korea, Japan, China and Russia.
Asked if the U.S. delegation would meet with allies in Seoul or Tokyo during this trip, Nuland said that depends on what the North Koreans have to say.