North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il, has said Pyongyang may yet return to multilateral talks on nuclear disarmament. South Korean officials welcome the comments, which come less than two weeks after its Stalinist neighbor said it would not attend talks.
South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon welcomed North Korea's latest comments about resuming multilateral talks on its nuclear weapons programs. Mr. Ban says the comments reaffirm his belief the North has not shut the door on dialogue.
Early Tuesday, North Korea's official Central News Agency said Kim Jong Il had told Chinese envoy Wang Jiarui that Pyongyang may return to nuclear talks. North Korea declared earlier this month that it was suspending participation in the talks because of what it called a hostile U.S. attitude. Pyongyang also said it had nuclear weapons and would make more.
According to Tuesday's reports, Mr. Kim told Mr. Wang there must be "mature conditions" for the talks and the United States must show "sincerity." The reports, however, did not say what those conditions are.
The senior U.S. delegate to the talks, Ambassador Christopher Hill, was cautious about the latest comments. He told reporters in Seoul Tuesday that he wants to hear more from Chinese officials about their meetings in Pyongyang.
"I'll wait and see what the Chinese hosts of the talks have to say, and I share the view of the five partners that we all want to see North Korea come back to the talks," said Mr. Hill.
China has held three rounds of talks with both Koreas, Japan, Russia, and the United States aimed at persuading Pyongyang to live up to its international commitments to remain free of nuclear weapons.
Japan's officials welcomed Pyongyang's latest comments, but expressed confusion over why it earlier had said it would not attend talks.
Kim Jae-chun is a professor of international relations at South Korea's Sogang University. He says this time Kim Jong Il may be seeking an additional gesture from the United States. Professor Kim says an indication that Washington does not seek regime change in North Korea could jump start the talks.
North Korea says it feels threatened by the United States, and some experts think the country's leaders fear that the Bush administration wants to topple the hard-line communist government.
North Korea in the past has said it would not attend nuclear talks only to reverse its position and agree to negotiate.
Analysts say wide swings in rhetoric are part of North Korea's negotiating technique.