BEIJING – North Korean leader Kim Jong Il said Tuesday that the countries involved in a pact committing Pyongyang to dismantling its nuclear programs should follow through on their initial pledges, Chinese state media reported.
"Recently there have been signs that the situation on the Korean peninsula has been eased," Kim was paraphrased by Chinese Central Television as saying to Chinese Foreign Ministry Yang Jiechi during talks in Pyongyang.
Kim said "all the parties should implement the initial actions" of the disarmament agreement reached in February, the report said. The initial steps include the shutdown of the North's main reactor in exchange for economic aid and political concessions.
It is the first time the North's reclusive leader has spoken about the February disarmament deal.
His comment seemed to be the clearest signal yet that the regime is sincere in its pledge to shut down its main nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, although Pyongyang has repeatedly said it will shutter the facility without pinning down a date for the action.
A confidential report by the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog seen Tuesday by The Associated Press also raised expectations that the hard won pact could be realized. The document showed that the agency believes North Korea has exhibited "wide-ranging willingness" to fulfill its disarmament commitments.
Chinese television footage showed a jovial-looking Kim and Yang posing for photos and sitting across a table from each other during their discussions.
The North's Korean Central News Agency reported that Yang conveyed to Kim a verbal personal message from Chinese President Hu Jintao but details were not given.
During talks with his North Korean counterpart Pak Ui Chun, Yang also discussed the February agreement and both sides agreed to make joint efforts to implement it, said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang.
Yang's trip — his first since taking up his post in April — comes after Pyongyang reaffirmed its pledge last week to shut down its Yongbyon reactor following the resolution of a banking dispute between Pyongyang and Washington.
On Saturday, Olli Heinonen, the deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, wrapped up a five-day visit to the North, which included a tour of the Yongbyon facility. Heinonen said he reached a tentative agreement with Pyongyang on how the agency will verify and monitor Yongbyon's closure.
A report by Heinonen made available Tuesday to The Associated Press says that North Korea stated it is willing to provide agency experts with needed technical information, access and other help needed to help shut down Pyongyang's weapons-capable nuclear facilities.
The confidential four-page report outlines events linked to the agency's foreseen role in shutting down the North's plutonium-producing Yongbyon facility, up to Heinonen's visit last week.
The report will be discussed by the agency's 35-nation board, which is expected to approve it as early as Monday, paving the way for the beginning of the IAEA mission overseeing the shutdown and eventual dismantling of the Yongbyon facility. That would effectively start the process of ending the North's nuclear program.
The financial dispute that held up the disarmament talks until last week was centered on North Korean funds frozen in a Macau bank blacklisted by the United States for alleged money laundering and other wrongdoing.
The U.S. action prompted North Korea to boycott the six-nation talks for more than a year, during which it conducted its first nuclear test in October.
Qin said China would consult with the other nations involved in the talks and jointly determine when to start the next round. The latest round of nuclear talks was held in March.
Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said Tuesday he didn't think it feasible for the international talks to take place before mid-July.
"A special board meeting will be held on July 9. If IAEA officials are to visit North Korea after that, I wonder how long that would take," Aso said. "It may take several weeks."
U.S. nuclear envoy Christopher Hill had said earlier the talks might happen during the second week of July.
Yang also discussed ways to boost economic cooperation between China and the North during separate talks with Prime Minister Kim Yong Il, Qin said.