China and South Korea are welcoming Washington's plan to send a high level envoy to North Korea. The renewed talks are a big improvement over the tensions that marked relations between Washington and Pyongyang since the beginning of the Bush Administration.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue calls the planned talks a "positive step."

She says the dispatch of a ranking U.S. diplomat to Pyongyang is part of a welcome relaxation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

South Korean officials also greeted the U.S. announcement warmly.

A White House spokesman says President Bush called South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and they agreed North Korea must be willing to resolve security issues involving Pyongyang's suspected nuclear weapons program.

Washington has not announced a date for the envoy's visit but indicated it would be soon.

There have been no substantive talks between Washington and Pyongyang since President Bush took office in 2001. The Bush Administration has branded North Korea part of an "axis of evil" intent on building weapons of mass destruction.

The atmosphere has changed in recent weeks as North Korea has made recent conciliatory diplomatic moves toward Japan and South Korea.