Leader Kim Jong Il made the commitment after speaking with the Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on Monday. The move came as South Korea announced its Communist neighbour appeared to be preparing to reopen plutonium-producing plants that it shut before walking out of the six-party talks in April.

**Face saving gesture**

Analysts are cautiously optimistic about today’s development, but some have dismissed it as a “face saving” gesture designed to maintain its strong relationship with neighbouring China.

Paul Ingram, executive director of the British American Security Information Council (BASIC) told Radio Netherlands:

_“It’s very unpredictable as to how things will proceed in the future but it does appear that the Obama administration is prepared to play a negotiating game with the North Koreans…. So there is more hope as a result of this week’s developments but it can’t be said with any certainty that they’ll be able to move forward smoothly.”_

**Talks began in 2003**

Talks between North and South Korea, China, Russia, Japan and the US began in 2003 and the group reached deals in 2005 and 2007 under which North Korea shut down plants and began disabling them.

It quit the forum in April after the United Nations condemned its launch of a long-range rocket. In May it staged a second nuclear test which resulted in the imposition of sanctions by the UN.

The US says it wants to restart negotiations but will only do so with the aim of convincing Kim Jong-Il to completely end its nuclear programme. One positive sign is a planned visit by special US negotiator Stephen Bosworth later this month.

**No immediate shutdown**

But Paul Ingram says there is little likelihood Pyongyang will shut down all its nuclear operations in the near future:

_“I don’t think the current regime in North Korea will give up its nuclear arsenal irreversibly until it can be more confident in its dealings with the international community and its own stability or if there is a regime change.”_