Although North Korea continues to have ballistic missiles ready to launch, the reclusive nation indicated it was open to dialogue with close ally China and may be toning down its belligerent rhetoric.
According to a source knowledgeable about North Korean affairs, Pyongyang indicated in mid-April that it was willing to talk to Beijing.
China will likely send Wu Dawei, China's special representative for Korean Peninsula affairs and chairman of the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear issues, or some other high-ranking official to Pyongyang for discussions. The Chinese side is expected to call on North Korea to agree to either dialogue with the United States or resumption of the six-party talks.
Despite this apparent change of heart, there are still reasons to be skeptical. North Korea previously rejected a request for discussions from China after it conducted its third nuclear test on Feb. 12. Officials at the North Korean Embassy in Beijing also at one time refused to meet with Chinese officials.
Moreover, North Korea still has its Musudan medium-range ballistic missiles and other missiles deployed along the Sea of Japan coast, as of April 19. Some of its troops, though, have been moved away from the front lines.
Japan, the United States and South Korea are in agreement that a precondition for engaging North Korea in dialogue would be its abandonment of its nuclear ambitions. But in late March, a meeting of the Workers' Party of Korea central committee agreed to pursue a new parallel course of strengthening the economy while continuing with its nuclear weapons development program.
Pyongyang also announced that it would hold a military parade to mark the 60th anniversary of the Korean War cease-fire on July 27.
Confirmation has been made that the North Korean military is preparing for such a parade at a military airfield on the outskirts of Pyongyang.
There are also strong concerns that North Korea may engage in new provocations, including a ballistic missile launch or another nuclear test, before July.
Once the joint military exercise between South Korea and the United States concludes on April 30, the momentum for resumption of dialogue involving North Korea will likely accelerate.
Officials of Japan, the United States and South Korea believe that North Korea realized the seriousness of the military threat from the United States and South Korea.
There is also the possibility that Pyongyang softened its stance because U.S. President Barack Obama twice indicated that the United States was open to dialogue in remarks made on April 11 and 16.
The fact that Washington initiated the calls for dialogue also allows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to maintain his political standing at home.
Even if North Korea were to resume dialogue, a considerable amount of time will likely be needed before full-fledged discussions can begin, including talks with Japan and the United States on normalizing diplomatic relations.
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