A top U.S. diplomat is welcoming reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is willing to participate in bilateral and multilateral talks on his country's controversial nuclear program.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell told reporters in Tokyo on Friday that it appears North Korea is willing to accept commitments it made during previous disarmament talks.  Campbell also says any bilateral discussions between the U.S. and North Korea can only take place within the framework of the ongoing six-party talks, which also involve China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan. 

Earlier on Friday, China's official Xinhua news agency reported that Kim told visiting Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo the North would continue to pursue the "denuclearization" of the Korean peninsula.  China is North Korea's principal ally.

South Korean officials caution against interpreting Mr. Kim's reported comments as a positive sign and suggest that Pyongyang has other ideas.

North Korea pulled out of the six-nation talks in April after the international community criticized its launch of a rocket other nations suspected was a test of long-range missile technology.

Since then, the North has insisted it only wants direct talks with the United States. Washington is open to the possibility and says direct talks with Pyongyang could help get the North to return to the six-nation talks.

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.