Nk deems return to nuclear talks

PYONGYANG: North Korean leader Kim Jong Il told China's premier on Monday that the North was prepared to return to multination disarmament talks depending on progress in its two-way negotiations with the U.S.

Kim's comments, carried by official North Korean and Chinese media, were the clearest sign yet that Pyongyang was readying to resume the six-nation talks it withdrew from after conducting missile tests in April and a second nuclear test in May.

In their meeting late Monday, Kim said that North Korea "is willing to attend multilateral talks, including the six-party talks, depending on the progress in its talks with the United States," China's Xinhua News Agency said in a report issued early Tuesday.

The North's Korean Central News Agency carried nearly identical comments. In the KCNA report, Kim told Wen that denuclearization remained a goal and that historically hostile relations with the U.S. "should be converted into peaceful ties through bilateral talks without fail."

North Korea has been moderating its tone in recent weeks, signaling its willingness to resume a dialogue with the U.S., China and other partners and backing away from the provocative behavior and rhetoric of the spring.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said Washington was aware of reports that North Korea would reconsider opening talks but said the United States had not yet gotten details of the meeting from the Chinese.

"We've talked to our Chinese partners in the six-party talks and we're conducting close coordination with China and the other partners in the talks," Kelly said. "We, of course, encourage any kind of dialogue that would help us lead to our ultimate goal that's shared by all the partners in the six-party talks, which, is the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula."

Kim's remarks to Wen came on the second day of the Chinese premier's three-day trip to Pyongyang to celebrate the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the neighbors.

Both countries' communist leaderships traded congratulatory messages Monday extolling what the Chinese called their "good neighborly, friendly and cooperative relations."

Beyond the niceties, Wen's visit is seen as an inducement to Pyongyang to return to the disarmament talks, which China sponsored and which include Japan, Russia and South Korea as well as the U.S. and North Korea. The cautious Chinese leadership is unlikely to have agreed to Wen's trip without assurances about resumed talks.

As the No. 3 leader in China's Communist Party hierarchy, Wen was accorded unusual high-level attention, having been greeted at the airport by Kim on Sunday and having attended mass games together Monday night, according to footage from AP Television News in Pyongyang.

Kim reportedly made similar remarks — that North Korea's return to the six-party talks hinged on progress with the U.S. — to a Chinese envoy sent last month to Pyongyang to prepare for Wen's visit.

As North Korea's chief diplomatic and economic backer, Beijing was under pressure from other governments to bring North Korea back to the table.

South Korea has taken a hard-line and on Monday urged China anew to exert pressure, including applying U.N. sanctions Beijing signed on to in May.

"I think China should lead North Korea to decide to give up its nuclear program by faithfully implementing" the sanctions, South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan told a parliament committee meeting.

China is North Korea's biggest trade partner and economic patron, providing much of the food assistance and all the oil needed to keep the listing North Korean economy going.

The isolated nation gives Beijing a buffer state in Northeast Asia. While relations were close following the 1950-53 Korean War — during which the Chinese fought with the North against the U.S. — the two sides have drifted apart in recent decades, as China embraced free-market reforms and North Korea remained a defiantly closed, totalitarian state.

Despite strains, Beijing rarely threatens North Korea publicly, preferring to offer support to encourage Pyongyang to engage outwardly. Wen was expected to oversee the signing of several agreements on his trip. On Sunday, the two sides agreed to build a new bridge over the Yalu River, which forms part of their border, the official Korean Central News Agency reported.