North Korea on Monday peacefully celebrated the birthday of its regime founder following a weekend of calls from the United States and regional states for a return to diplomacy, Reuters reported.
There has been strong suspicion that Pyongyang might launch one or more intermediate-range missiles around the birthday of Kim Il Sung.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, wrapping up a brief Asia tour, said "the United States remains open to authentic and credible negotiations on denuclearization, but the burden is on Pyongyang." Kerry on Sunday signaled that negotiations could happen even if the North does not first demonstrate a commitment to shuttering its nuclear weapon facilities. China might act as the facilitator for new talks, he said.
The new U.S. openness for diplomacy follows weeks of North Korean rhetoric, including threats of pre-emptive nuclear strikes on the United States and South Korea, and the apparent fielding of mobile missile launchers near its eastern coast. The aggressive tactics seem to have worked, according to University of North Korean Studies expert Yang Moo-jin.
"The North's strategic intention has been to try to get some kind of response from the United States and South Korea and now they have that," Yang said. "They won't be brushing away the suggestions to enter dialogue lightly."
The North is not likely to agree to any denuclearization steps prior to new negotiations after repeatedly proclaiming itself a nuclear-armed nation, according to the New York Times.
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi spoke with Kerry on Saturday in Beijing about the North Korean nuclear impasse, which he said "should be handled and resolved peacefully through dialogue and consultation," Reuters reported.
"China will work with other relevant parties, including the United States, to play a constructive role in promoting the six-party talks and balanced implementation of the goals set out in the Sept. 19 joint statement of 2005," Yang said.
The six-nation negotiations encompass China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the United States. Under the September 2005 accord, the nations agreed to work toward the permanent shutdown of North Korea's nuclear weapons program, which was to occur in gradual phases that would be matched by international security guarantees and economic assistance. The nuclear talks last took place in December 2008.
Pyongyang on Sunday criticized as a "cunning ploy" a recent call for inter-Korean talks by South Korean President Park Geun-hye, the Yonhap News Agency reported.
The aspiring nuclear power appears to have halted the shuffling of objects suspected to be Musudan missiles mounted on mobile launchers, an anonymous government insider told Yonhap. The moves last week were believed aimed at confusing foreign countries' efforts to keep tabs on the missiles' readiness for launching. The halt now could suggest that North Korea is backing off its threats to fire missiles.
South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin on Monday told parliament that Pyongyang still appears prepared to go through with a missile firing, Yonhap separately reported. "As North Korea is believed to provoke at any time depending on its hostile rhetoric and the political and military situation on the Korean Peninsula, we are fully prepared (for an attack)," the defense chief said.