SEOUL - North Korea indicated on Friday it was ready to end its year-long boycott of nuclear negotiations, following talks in the reclusive state this week with a U.S. envoy trying to revive a disarmament-for-aid deal.
The three days of meetings in Pyongyang between Stephen Bosworth and top North Korean nuclear officials capped months of manoeuvring to reduce tensions after the North test fired missiles and set off a nuclear device, trigging U.N. sanctions.
Analysts said Bosworth's trip marked a reasonable start to efforts to bring the impoverished state back to the table but it would take a lot more work before any real resumption in negotiations over Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions.
Even if North Korea returns to the talks, it has a record of dragging down discussions, backing away from pledges and storming out of sessions when it does not get its way.
The North's official KCNA news agency described the talks with U.S. President Barack Obama's first envoy there as frank and businesslike.
The two sides deepened the mutual understanding, narrowed their differences and found not a few common points, it quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as saying.
Bosworth met First Vice Minister Kang Sok-ju, considered to be the mastermind of its nuclear policy and close to leader Kim Jong-il, and Kim Kye-gwan, the top negotiator representing the North at the six-way talks.
KCNA said there were extensive talks on drawing up a peace treaty and normalising ties, provision of economic and energy aid and denuclearising the Korean peninsula.
Bosworth flew to Beijing from Seoul on Friday. He then goes to Tokyo and Moscow to brief the other members of the six-way talks before heading home to Washington next week.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the talks quite positive as a preliminary meeting as the Obama administration pursues an approach of strategic patience in close coordination with allies.
Russia welcomed signs North Korea was ready to return to talks, Interfax news agency quoted the Foreign Ministry as saying.
North Korea walked away from the negotiating table a year ago. Five months later it detonated a nuclear device, its second such test, resulting in tightened U.N. sanctions that further damaged the North's crippled economy.
Analysts said it may be the North's broken economy that is pushing it back to talks, when it hopes to win aid in return for a fresh promise to give up its nuclear arsenal.
For the situation to move forward, North Korea needs to take irreversible steps in denuclearisation, said Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. For this to happen, actions must be taken on both sides simultaneously.
Bosworth said he passed on Obama's message that failure to move ahead on the disarmament deal was an obstacle to realising Pyongyang's long-sought goal of improving ties with Washington.
Once the six-party process resumed, he said, progress could then be made on issues such as talks on a formal peace treaty to end the Korean War.
North Korea has blamed the U.S. military presence in the South as proof that Washington was intent on destroying it, which made it necessary to build a nuclear arsenal in self defence. The United States has denied such plans.
It is clear that the North Koreans continue to attach unacceptable preconditions even to returning to the Six Party Talks, much less seriously negotiating about denuclearisation, said David Straub, a former State Department official in comments to the Nelson Report. (Additional reporting by Christine Kim in Seoul, Oleg Shchedrov in Moscow, editing by Jonathan Thatcher and Sanjeev Miglani)