North Korea's leader has apparently told a senior Chinese envoy he is willing to resume talks to resolve the issue of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons.
China's Xinhua news agency says North Korean leader Kim Jong Il promises to work toward making the Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons. Mr. Kim also is willing to engage in what the report describes as "bilateral or multilateral talks" to help push that goal forward.
Those comments, if accurate, would be the first explicit sign in months that North Korea is willing to resume diplomacy aimed at ending its nuclear weapons programs. Mr. Kim reportedly made them to senior Chinese envoys visiting Pyongyang.
A North Korean state broadcaster says Mr. Kim met with Dai Bingguo, an envoy of Chinese Premier Hu Jintao. They held talks in a "cordial atmosphere" about continuing the North Korea-China friendship.
China's envoy to six-nation nuclear talks, Wu Dawei, also attended the meeting. The often-stalled six-nation talks also involve the United States, South Korea, Japan, and Russia. Earlier this year, North Korea declared the six-party process "useless" and over with. It conducted its second nuclear test in May.
South Korean officials caution against interpreting Mr. Kim's reported comments as a signal the North is ready to come back to the talks. The South's foreign minister, Yu Myung-hwan, told business leaders in Seoul Friday that Pyongyang has other ideas.
Yu says now that North Korea possesses nuclear weapons, Pyongyang intends to have U.S.-North Korea arms reduction talks, which the U.S. cannot accept.
Washington has ruled out such arms reduction talks, which would implicitly recognize North Korea as a nuclear weapons state. The United States and its regional partners say they will accept nothing less than a complete and verifiable end to North Korea's nuclear arms capabilities.
President Obama's administration has expressed willingness to talk to North Korea one-on-one, but only in a context that is directly connected to the six-party talks.
North Korea analysts here in the South Korean capital find it significant that Mr. Kim's reported comments come during a visit from China. Beijing is the North's only significant ally, and provides a lifeline of food, fuel, and resources to its hobbled economy.
Hong Hyun-ik is a North Korea researcher at the Sejong Institute in Seoul.
He says China felt the need to stop the North's nuclear activities from getting out of hand. He says Beijing also does not want to be isolated from any one-on-one diplomatic arrangement between North Korea and the United States. So, China sent its envoy, says Hong, to remind Kim Jong Il how crucial it is to the North's economic fate.