North Korean Leader Kim Jong Il Tells Chinese Premier He is Willing to Return to Nuclear Disarmament Talks

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.

North Korea's new readiness to return to stalled international talks about its nuclear program – if prior negotiations with the United States go well – puts the diplomatic ball in Washington's court.

"This is a test for the Obama administration's policy on North Korea," says Ryoo Kihl-jae, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.

Initial signs suggested that the US was prepared to pick the ball up. "We, of course, encourage any kind of dialogue that would help us lead to … the complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula," said State Department spokesman Ian Kelly.