North Korea agreed Tuesday to rejoin six-nation nuclear disarmament talks in a surprise diplomatic breakthrough three weeks after the communist regime conducted its first known atomic test. A U.S. envoy said the talks could resume as early as November.
Chinese, U.S. and North Korean envoys to the negotiations held a day of unpublicized talks in Beijing during which North Korea agreed to return to the larger six-nation talks on its nuclear programs, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said.
"The three parties agreed to resume the six-party talks at the earliest convenient time," the Chinese statement said.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said the talks could resume in November or December but all six countries � the U.S., the two Koreas, Japan and Russia � needed to agree to the date.
"We believe it will be in November or possibly in December," he said at a news conference at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. The six-nation arms talks were last held in November 2005.
The agreement is one of the first signs of easing tensions since North Korea conducted the underground detonation on Oct. 9, defying warnings from both the United States and Japan, and its staunchest ally, China.
If the six-party talks resume, it would mark a diplomatic victory for Beijing, which in the wake of the test had argued against punishing North Korea too harshly, in order to leave open a path for diplomacy.
"We hope it's true," White House press secretary Tony Snow told NBC's "Today" show. "It would be very good news."