More than two years after North Korea walked out of multilateral talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons drive, the United States and the two Koreas are moving rapidly to relaunch discussions.
In back-to-back moves, officials and ministers of North and South Korea held surprise meetings on Friday and Saturday, agreeing to work towards resumption of six-party nuclear talks among the two Koreas, the United States, Russia, Japan, and host China.
It was the first high-level contact since 2008 between the two neighboring arch-rivals.
Then, on Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Washington has invited North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kae Gwan to New York later this week for discussions on the next steps needed to restart the protracted denuclearization talks.
"Vice Foreign Minister Kim will meet with an interagency team of U.S. officials for discussions on the next steps necessary to resume denuclearization negotiations through the Six-Party Talks," she said.
"This will be an exploratory meeting to determine if North Korea is prepared to affirm its obligations under international and Six-Party Talk commitments, as well as take concrete and irreversible steps toward denuclearization," Clinton said in a statement.
The statement came at the end of annual ministerial talks hosted by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in Indonesia that also included a regional security forum attended by Clinton and her counterparts from the six nations involved in the nuclear forum.
Clinton, who had also met the foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan on the nuclear issue on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum, said that while the U.S. was open open to talks with Pyongyang, "we do not intend to reward the North just for returning to the table."
"We will not give them anything new for actions they have already agreed to take. And we have no appetite for pursuing protracted negotiations that will only lead us right back to where we have already been," she said.
In a joint statement released Saturday, the United States, South Korea, and Japan also said Pyongyang must "address" its secretive uranium enrichment program before the talks can restart.
While the weekend diplomatic efforts were the most positive in attempts to revive the six-nation talks last held in December 2008, analysts wonder how the parties, especially the United States and North Korea, are going to restart any negotiations on the nuclear dispute.
"The question is what are they going to talk about now after the talks have been dormant for about three years," Scott Snyder, director of the Center for U.S.-Korea policy at the Asia Foundation in Washington, told RFA.
He said the new diplomatic offensive was part of a three-stage process agreed upon by the United States and China to kick-start the six-party talks.
The first stage is for the two Koreas to engage bilaterally, the second involves talks between the U.S. and North Korea, and the third stage will be the six-party talks themselves.
In fact, much water has passed under the bridge since North Korea walked out of the nuclear talks in April 2009, four months after the last meeting.
The unpredictable North Korean regime has conducted a second nuclear test, tested long-range missiles, and revealed a uranium enrichment program that could give it another way to make nuclear bombs.
North Korea also staged a deadly artillery attack on the South in November, the worst violence since the Korean War in the 1950s, and was blamed for the sinking of one of South Korea's warships a year ago that left 46 sailors dead.
The international community was alarmed by Pyongyang's actions.
South Korea had demanded some expression of regret from Pyongyang about the attacks as indication that the North is serious about reducing tensions and working to bring stability to the Korean peninsula.
But, of late, Seoul has displayed flexibility, deciding to separate the nuclear issue from the North’s deadly attacks on the Cheonan ship and artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island, which killed four South Korean soldiers.
North Korea is also seen to be keen on returning to the negotiating table as it is desperate for foreign aid ahead of the 2012 centennial of the birth of the country's founder, Kim Il Sung.
The six-party talks had put together a road map to solve the nuclear turmoil through a joint statement signed in September 2005.
Clinton made it clear that North Korea must adhere to what it had agreed to do under the agreement.
"The U.S. position remains that North Korea must comply with its commitments under the 2005 Joint Statement of the Six Party Talks, relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions, and the terms of the Armistice Agreement," she said.
The two Koreas remain in a technical state of war as their three-year conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, in 1953. The United States has 28,500 troops in the South, a key Washington ally in Asia.
Reported by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.