BEIJING — North Korean leader Kim Jong Il told the visiting Chinese premier Monday that his country was willing to return to six-nation nuclear disarmament negotiations provided progress is made in direct talks with the United States, according to Chinese and North Korean state media.
The remark came on the second day of a three-day visit by Premier Wen Jiabao and marks a potential softening of Pyongyang's stance. North Korea walked away from the talks in April, then announced it had restarted a nuclear reactor and conducted bomb and missile tests. The reclusive communist state is under strict United Nations sanctions.
In July, officials in Pyongyang announced they were open to renewing dialogue on nuclear disarmament. North Korea, which favors bilateral talks with Washington, then said it would welcome a U.S. envoy to Pyongyang.
The Obama administration is reluctant to engage in two-way negotiations and would rather North Korea rejoin the six-nation talks, which also involve China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.
State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said the U.S. wanted the multilateral talks to result in a verifiable end to Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.
Kim's olive branch comes at a time when U.S. officials are trying to increase pressure on North Korea by targeting its foreign bank accounts and blocking its arms sales overseas.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported today that North Korea appeared to be in the final phase of restoring a key nuclear facility that had been disabled in 2007 during the six-nation talks.