BEIJING, Feb. 22 -- North Korea's leader told a visiting Chinese official that Pyongyang would return to negotiations over its declared nuclear arsenal if conditions were "mature" and the United States showed "sincerity," China and North Korea announced Tuesday.
The statement, attributed directly to Kim Jong Il, who holds absolute power in the isolated nation, was the most conciliatory language to emerge from Pyongyang since Kim's government asserted Feb. 10 that it had nuclear weapons and was indefinitely suspending participation in the Chinese-led six-party talks. China and North Korea both announced Kim's pledge in their official organs, seeking to give it prominence.
Kim Jong Il is quoted as telling a visiting Chinese official that North Korea would conditionally rejoin nuclear negotiations.
"We will go the negotiating table any time if there are mature conditions for the six-party talks thanks to the concerted efforts of the parties concerned in the future, he said, expressing hope that the United States would show trustworthy sincerity and move," the government-run Korean Central News Agency said, referring to Kim.
In his reported gesture, Kim did not specify what conditions North Korea would consider "mature," nor did he say what the United States would have to do to demonstrate "sincerity." But in expressing hope that the United States would "move," Kim seemed to be demanding a change in the U.S. position as a condition for returning to the negotiations.
Washington has demanded a complete, verifiable and permanent end to North Korea's nuclear programs; North Korea has demanded economic aid and a guarantee that the United States has no hostile intent toward Kim's government.
Since the Feb. 10 announcement, the United States and other nations in the six-party talks have called on China to apply pressure to Kim's government for a resumption of the talks. A delegation led by Wang Jiarui, head of the Chinese Communist Party's foreign liaison department, visited North Korea over the weekend. Although the visit was a long-scheduled party exchange between the two neighbors, a senior foreign diplomat said, China assigned Wang to take advantage of it to urge Kim to end his boycott of the talks.
The North Korean report said Wang relayed a verbal message to Kim from Chinese President Hu Jintao in which Hu said the talks were in North Korea's interests as well as China's.
In its willingness to return to the talks at all, the statement attributed to Kim marked a turnaround for North Korea, at least as measured by its public rhetoric. In the days after Pyongyang announced its pullout, North Korean officials had declared the six-party talks dead and buried.
China also reported the change in attitude, quoting Kim as saying North Korea had "never opposed the six-party talks" and would not withdraw from them, according to the New China News Agency.
In raising hopes that the talks might be revived, Kim has handed China a welcome victory, demonstrating the weight of Beijing's influence over its neighbor. At the same time, the statement talked only of a possible resumption of talks and said nothing of the substance of the disputes.