The State Department said Thursday it is very encouraged by reports that North Korea may be ready to accept the Bush administration's proposal for multilateral talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program. U.S. officials say the discussions could be held in Beijing in late August or September.
There has been no direct U.S.-North Korean communication on the issue.
But State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says a Russian announcement Thursday that North Korea is ready to participate in six-nation talks coincides with what China has told the United States about its contacts with Pyongyang.
He said the Bush administration is optimistic about an early resumption of the nuclear dialogue.
"I don't know if we've had a chance to talk to the Russians yet," he said. "We're certainly been hearing things from the Chinese, and so I think we're quite encouraged that the North Koreans are accepting the president's proposal for multilateral talks, and we have a number of indications to that effect."
China has been playing a key mediating role on the nuclear issue, sending a senior envoy to Pyongyang and then to Washington two weeks ago.
President Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao discussed the matter by telephone on Wednesday, and Mr. Hu is understood to have told Mr. Bush of Pyongyang's inclination to resume discussions.
China hosted an initial and inconclusive three-way meeting with the United States and North Korea in April.
The United States had insisted that any follow-on round should include regional powers also affected by Pyongyang's weapons program, especially South Korea and Japan, though officials here have in recent days stressed the desirability of Russia also taking part.
North Korea has sought one-on-one talks with the United States, though officials here say nothing in a multi-lateral format will prevent North Korea from raising whatever issue it wants with the U.S. delegation.
Pyongyang has also demanded a non-aggression pact with the United States as a condition for discussing a roll-back of its nuclear moves since the crisis erupted last October.
The Bush administration has said there should be no diplomatic reward for what it considers North Korean misbehavior.
But it has also said that if Pyongyang "verifiably and irreversibly" ended its nuclear program, it would be prepared to revive a so-called "bold approach" for increased U.S. aid and recognition for the reclusive communist state.