SEOUL, South Korea – North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (search) told a visiting Chinese envoy that his government will return to six-party nuclear disarmament talks if the United States shows "sincerity," the communist state's official news agency said Tuesday.
The announcement — the latest in more than two years of conflicting statements over North Korea's nuclear program — came less than two weeks after Kim flouted Washington and its allies by claiming that it had nuclear weapons and would boycott the talks.
"We will go to the negotiating table anytime if there are mature conditions for the six-party talks thanks to the concerted efforts of the parties concerned in the future," Kim said Tuesday, expressing the hope that the United States would show "trustworthy sincerity," according to the Korean Central News Agency.
Kim spoke of his government's new position on the nuclear issue in a meeting with Wang Jiarui, head of the Chinese Communist Party's International Department, KCNA said.
Kim also said that North Korea (search) "would as ever stand for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and its position to seek a peaceful solution to the issue through dialogue remains unchanged," the news agency said.
KCNA did not elaborate on what conditions Kim cited during his talks with the envoy from China (search), which is his impoverished country's only remaining major ally.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Lou Fintor said that U.S. officials were "aware of the report" about Kim's remarks, and the U.S. position on resuming the six-party talks is well known.
"The United States remains ready to resume the six party talks at an early date without preconditions," said Fintor. He said, "The six-party talks are the best way to resolve through peaceful diplomacy the international community's concerns about North Korea's pursuit of nuclear weapons and to end the North's international isolation."
In its rejection of further meetings over the nuclear issue on Feb. 10, North Korea said it would only return to the talks that include South Korea, China, Russia and Japan if the United States drops what it called a "hostile" policy toward the North.
At that time, it condemned a statement by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who called North Korea an "outpost of tyranny," saying it was evidence that Washington seeks a regime change in Pyongyang.
During three rounds of talks in Beijing since late 2002, North Korea has demanded more aid and a peace treaty with Washington in exchange for giving up its nuclear program — measures that it apparently hopes will guarantee the survival of Kim's Stalinist regime.
The talks have made little progress amid deep distrust between Washington and Pyongyang. The United States wants a verifiable nuclear freeze and weapons dismantlement as part of any deal. North Korea says it remains convinced Washington wants to topple its communist regime, and that it needs a nuclear deterrent for protection.
Though China helped defend North Korea in the 1950-53 Korean War, Beijing worries that a nuclear-armed North would raise tensions in the region and prompt Japan and South Korea to develop atomic weapons.
In his meeting with Kim Monday, Wang relayed a verbal message from Chinese President Hu Jintao, KCNA said.
"Hu Jintao in his verbal message clarified that it is in the fundamental interests of the Chinese and DPRK sides to maintain the stand of realizing the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and protecting its peace and stability, settle the nuclear issue and clear the Korean side of its reasonable concerns through the six-party talks," KCNA said.
DPRK stands for the North's official name — Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Wang expressed "the hope that thanks to the concerted efforts of each side the six-party talks would resume soon," the report said.