The diplomatic breakthrough came on Tuesday, three weeks after the isolated and impoverished state carried out its first nuclear test.

North Korea's KCNA news agency quoted a foreign ministry spokesman on Wednesday confirming the willingness to return to talks.

The DPRK [North Korea] decided to return to the six-party talks on the premise that the issue of lifting financial sanctions will be discussed and settled between the DPRK and the US within the framework of the six-party talks," the report said.

The negotiations, involving China, the US, the two Koreas, Russia and Japan, could re-start as soon as November, Christopher Hill, the chief US negotiator on North Korea, said.

Pyongyang's reversal came two weeks after the UN security council voted unanimously to impose sanctions on North Korea designed to starve its government of the material needed for its arms programs.

George Bush, the US president, thanked the Chinese for their role in "encouraging" North Korea to return to the talks.

"We'll be sending teams to the region to work with our partners to make sure that the current United Nations Security Council resolution is enforced but also make sure the talks are effective, that we achieve the result we want," the president said at the White House.

Mixed reactions

South Korea, which like China has urged engagement with Pyongyang, was positive about the prospects of resuming negotiations.

"The government hopes that the six-party talks will resume at an early date as agreed," Choo Kyu-ho, South Korea's foreign ministry spokesman, said.

"I have not broken out the champagne and cigars yet"

Christopher Hill, US envoy

However Japan, which feels threatened by North Korea's nuclear and missile programs, took a more skeptical line.

While Japan welcomed the prospect of a new round of talks, it "does not intend to accept North Korea's return to the talks on the premise that it possess nuclear weapons," the NHK broadcaster quoted Taro Aso, the Japanese foreign minister, as saying.

Hill said Washington agreed to discuss the financial sanctions they had imposed on North Korea a year ago as part of the renewed disarmament talks.

Pyongyang, which had boycotted the negotiations for a year to protest against the sanctions, did not make their lifting a condition for resuming the talks, Hill said.

Steps forward

Hill also cautioned that much work needed to be done to prepare for the resumption of talks.

"We're a long way from our goals here," he said.

"I have not broken out the champagne and cigars yet."

Among the issues would be how would North Korea take steps to ultimately give up its nuclear programs, he said.

Other issues, such as a South Korean proposal to provide electricity to the North, would also likely be explored, he said, as would how to set up mechanism, perhaps a working group, to discuss the US financial sanctions.