North Korea appointed a new top envoy to stalled disarmament talks Friday and was preparing for informal talks with South Korea on the sidelines of Asia's largest security forum, officials said.
The North _ which stands to get badly needed aid and other concessions if it returns to six-party talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons program _ has indicated in recent months that it might be ready.
North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-Chun told reporters veteran diplomat Ri Yong Ho had been named the country's top envoy to the six-way talks.
A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition he not be named, said the North also had agreed to hold working-level talks with the South on Friday.
It would be the "first big interaction" between the two sides in many months, he said, and could lead to increased open interaction between the two sides in the months to come.
Disarmament talks have been stalled since 2008, when North Korea walked out to protest international criticism of a prohibited long-range rocket launch. Tensions between the North and South have remained testy ever since.
But top diplomats from all six countries involved in the talks _ the United States, China, Russia, Japan and North and South Korea _ are attending the ASEAN Regional Forum raising hopes of a breakthrough.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi would discuss their "mutual desire for peace and stability on the Korean peninsula" on Friday.
Yang agreed, saying this was the time to unite.
"Anything we can do together to promote a better atmosphere and good dialogue among the parties concerned and to restart the six-party talks would be in the best interests of peace, stability and security of the region," he said.