According to Chinese reports, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il expressed regret over his country’s nuclear weapons test, saying that it would not conduct another so long as the United States did not escalate threats against the North.

North Korean leaders also apparently said that they would seek a return to negotiations, either through bilateral discussions with the U.S. — the preferred method — or through the six-party talks, which include North and South Korea, China, Russia, the U.S. and Japan.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, peace activists, Democrats and even some leading Republicans are demanding that the U.S. negotiate directly with the North.

“At the end of the day, we have to bite the bullet and talk to North Korea and Iran,” the IAEA’s Mohamed ElBaradei said. He said that direct North Korea-U.S. talks were the best solution.

In general, leaders of the Democratic Party agreed.

“Every single party we’re working with, every one of them, from Japan to Korea to Russia, has encouraged us privately to talk directly with North Korea,” said Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the top Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, agreed with Biden that the U.S. should directly negotiate with North Korea.

Regarding what he would like to see the Bush administration do, John Feffer, co-director of Foreign Policy in Focus and director of Global Affairs at the International Relations Center, told the World, “There’s the best course, and then there’s the more likely best course. The best course is for the U.S. government to agree to bilateral discussions.”

At the same time, many nations are calling for the North to return to the six-party talks. The Communist Party of China’s daily newspaper, People’s Daily, reported a communiqué issued by the Pacific Island Forum, representing 16 island nations, urging North Korea to return to the talks.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was somewhat optimistic. He said Oct. 25 in a Russian television broadcast that he thought North Korea had sent “signals” that it would return to the talks.

Feffer said the more probable best course to expect from the Bush administration “is simply to have a holding pattern. They really don’t want to do anything between now and the elections.

“They will not make any statements on the financial sanctions,” he said. “They won’t agree to bilateral because that would seem to be appeasement. They won’t go to war. That’s what we can hope for in the best sense from the administration between now and the elections. After the elections we have a different ballgame.”

Feffer said it is not necessarily the case that a Democratic leadership would take a better position towards North Korea. “However, that being said, there might be more political space for changed foreign policy in general.”

The Bush administration’s foreign policy has made the world more dangerous, peace activists say. Early in its tenure, the administration released a “National Security Estimate” that included pre-emptive war, possibly with the use of nuclear weapons.

The Bush administration and its allies in Congress have refused to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which would ban testing of nuclear weapons, even though the U.S. signed it in 1996. Currently 135 states have ratified the treaty. Anti-nuclear activists say that U.S. ratification of the pact would push it decisively into international law.

Kim’s regret and pledge against another nuclear test were reportedly made during a meeting with Tang Jiaxiuan, Chinese President Hu Jintao’s special envoy, who arrived in North Korea Oct. 18. However, the Chinese Foreign Ministry did not confirm the test moratorium until Oct. 24. As for Kim’s “regret,” China said that this report was “inaccurate.”

“Chinese sources confirmed that that’s what the North Korea said,” Feffer said, “but there was no official pronouncement.”

“I would assume that [what the Chinese sources said] is true,” he added. “There’s really no reason for the Chinese to leak that information if it’s demonstrably false. It would be a tremendous embarrassment for them if North Korea has a test.”

Feffer said it was likely that China, while it wanted to work to diffuse the nuclear situation, did not want to appear as a “conduit of information for the United States.”