BEIJING -- Japan said yesterday that North Korea has expressed "readiness" to abolish its nuclear program, and the United States hinted at new flexibility as well, as diplomats streamed into the Chinese capital for a six-nation meeting.
The United States is considering a proposal by Seoul to encourage North Korea to freeze its nuclear weapons program, a top South Korean nuclear negotiator said. And a Japanese diplomat, after meeting with his Chinese counterpart, said the North might be willing to "completely abandon" its program.
Progress, or the appearance of it, came in a flurry of diplomacy before the first six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program since August, when the first round ended with little changed and only a loose commitment to meet again.
The new talks convene tomorrow in Beijing, where the Chinese government -- longtime communist ally of the North and pivotal economic partner of the United States -- has worked for months to broker a new round. The Russian, American, and Japanese delegations arrived yesterday, and the North and South Koreans were due today.
At issue is North Korea's nuclear program and, in particular, allegations that Pyongyang has a uranium-based weapons program as well as its known plutonium-based one.
In Washington, a senior US official said the six countries involved in the talks may deploy specialists in China on a permanent basis to improve communication.
The possibility is expected to be discussed when the United States and the four regional countries meet with North Korean officials starting tomorrow, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
US officials believe North Korea has at least one or two nuclear bombs from plutonium, though some specialists say Pyongyang does not have the technology and resources to mount a nuclear warhead on a missile.