The White House said Monday it expects North Korea (search) to come back to six-party talks, scheduled later this month, with a serious response to an offer of economic incentives to dismantle its nuclear facilities. That offer was made before talks broke off last year.
Click to the right to watch a report by FOX News' James Rosen.
Pyongyang (search) agreed last weekend to resume the six-party talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear weapons program. In exchange, partners to the talks — the United States, South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia — would provide North Korea with limited fuel aid and assurances the United States would not attack it.
The meetings start the week of July 25.
Amid the optimism, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search), who flew to Beijing late last week for a tour of Asia, sounded a note of caution.
"We agreed that that is only a first step; that the real issue now is to make progress in those talks," Rice said.
Rice reaffirmed Washington's view of North Korea as a sovereign member of the United Nations. For its part, Beijing reaffirmed that it sees North Korea's nuclear weapons program in the same light as the United States.
"Let us continue to work together to achieve our shared goal, that is, a Korean peninsula free of nuclear weapons," Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said.
Rice did not immediately dismiss suggestions that Pyongyang will use the talks only to buy time to augment its nuclear arsenal.
"I do believe that North Korea has a bar to pass to show that it's really interested in and determined to give up its nuclear weapons," Rice told FOX News in an exclusive interview.
"Now, I will say that in their announcement, they went to say that they wanted to a make progress that was not prompted, they made that point," she added.
The official agreement to resume talks was revealed in a dinner in Beijing on Saturday night that brought together Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill and North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan. It followed two months of intensive backchannel diplomacy in New York by Washington's special envoy to the talks, Joseph DeTrani.
Eager to maintain the recent momentum, Rice has kept her remarks about North Korea fairly subdued. No comparisons have been made of Kim Jong-Il's Stalinist regime to an "outpost of tyranny," as it has been previously described by the Bush administration.
Rice also avoided repeating past criticisms of the regime's operation of concentration camps, which President Bush just two months ago denounced.
"I think everybody understands what our concerns about the North Koreans have been, including about its human record. That's on the record. It's very clear," Rice said.
After touring tsunami-damaged sites in Thailand, the secretary was headed to Seoul, South Korea, whose warnings about the withholding of energy assistance played a key role in bringing about North Korea's newfound flexibility, Rice aides say. Press reports say South Korea has presented a package of energy and financial aid to Pyongyang.