North Korea signals nuclear talks, prompts scepticism
SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said it has reached a consensus with China on resuming international talks on ending its nuclear arms programme, but analysts were sceptical about the chances of substantive talks any time soon.
China, the North's sole key ally, has urged regional powers to put the March sinking of a South Korean warship behind them and return to the negotiating table to end a cycle of confrontation that has raised tension to new heights.
Seoul and Washington have said the North must first admit responsibility for the sinking before they would consider returning to the talks.
Chinese state media said a delegation led by Beijing's chief nuclear envoy, Wu Dawei, visited Pyongyang earlier this week for talks on security issues and the six-party talks process.
The North's official KCNA news agency said the two sides had held "in-depth discussions on the regional situation and the bilateral relations of friendship and matters of mutual concern including the resumption of the six-party talks and the denuclearization of the whole Korean Peninsula".
"They reached a full consensus of views on all the matters discussed," it reported.
Analysts urged caution, saying there were no details on the consensus reached and warned Pyongyang has a history of quickly shifting tack in its diplomatic and nuclear dealings.
"Even if North Korea returns to talks, it should be seen as a temporary tactical move, because they are not prepared to abandon their nuclear weapons," said Zhang Liangui, an expert on North Korea at the Central Party School, a prominent institute in Beijing.
Six-way nuclear talks involving the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and China began in 2003 and have been in limbo since 2008 when North Korea said they were finished. It has reneged on nearly all its agreements.
Host China has urged regional powers to "flip the page of the Cheonan incident", referring to the sinking of the South Korean warship, the Cheonan, and quickly resume negotiations.
Seoul and Washington say a North Korean submarine torpedoed the Cheonan in March, killing 46 sailors. Pyongyang denies any role and China has never apportioned blame.
CHEONAN MUST BE RESOLVED
North Korea said last month it was willing to return to the six-party talks after the U.N. Security Council did not directly blame the North for the sinking, apparently in deference to Beijing.
North Korea has consistently sought talks with Washington, claiming the status of a legitimate nuclear power, and has also demanded new negotiations to replace the armistice ending the 1950-53 Korean War with a permanent peace treaty.
South Korea and the United States have rejected the idea of peace talks, saying the dismantling of the North's nuclear programme in an irreversible manner must come first.
The sinking of the Cheonan has prompted tougher sanctions against the destitute North by Seoul and Washington, as well as a series of military exercises designed to show their combined military might.
The U.S. and South Korean militaries are currently conducting their second joint drill inside a month, and plan another early next month off the west coast close to China.
Beijing has reacted furiously to such exercises, saying they are a threat to its security and regional stability.
Last month, a joint drill involving a U.S. aircraft carrier off the west coast was moved to the other side of peninsula due to Beijing's protests.
The U.S. military said on Friday next month's drills would not include the aircraft carrier.
(Additional reporting by Chris Buckley in Beijing; Editing by Nick Macfie)
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