North Korea could soon resume six-party talks on its nuclear weapons programme, according to China's envoy to the UN.
North Korea last took part in six-nation talks in 2004
Speaking in New York, where US and North Korean officials met on Monday, Wang Guangya said talks were "the best way" to break the current deadlock.
Mr Wang said the six-way discussions might resume "in the next few weeks", and would be hosted by Beijing.
South Korea and Japan both cautiously welcomed the news, but pointed out that no date for talks had yet been set.
South Korea's foreign minister said a resumption of dialogue was not an end in itself, and there needed to be progress on the elimination of the North's nuclear programme. According to the BBC's Seoul correspondent Charles Scanlon, some analysts believe North Korea is now playing for time.
The six-way negotiations - which involve the US, China, Japan, Russia and North and South Korea - have been stalled for nearly a year, following three rounds in Beijing that failed to make headway.
An impasse set in - with the US demanding the North's abandonment of its nuclear weapons programme before getting any concessions, while North Korea first demanded more aid and a non-aggression treaty.
Both sides have been sending out contradictory signals in a complex diplomatic dance, according to our correspondent.
US officials have publicly vilified the North Korean system and hinted at coercive measures if it does not scrap its nuclear weapons programme.
But they have also made conciliatory gestures, recognising North Korea as a sovereign state and saying they have no intention to attack.
For its part, North Korea claimed earlier this year that it was pushing ahead with its development of nuclear weapons, but it now says it is prepared to return to the six-party talks.
Analysts believe the North has been raising the stakes to try to get the best possible deal, without trying to provoke all-out confrontation.
Credit to China
There is growing hope in the region that the deadlock is about to be broken.
In Tokyo, foreign ministry spokesman Akira Chib said on Wednesday that Japan "would be happy if the talks happen".
He added that if talks did resume, credit should go to China for pushing North Korea back towards the negotiating table.
South Korean presidential aide Chung Woo-sung said that although the development was a "good sign", Pyongyang had not yet set a date for six-party talks to resume.
"It is too early to jump to a conclusion," Mr Chung told the Associated Press.
Despite the optimism, analysts remain cautious. According to our correspondent, the US administration has not spoken with one voice on North Korea, and some in the region suspect it has not abandoned the notion of regime change.
The North may have concluded that the time has come to talk again, but there is little indication that either side is ready to make the concessions needed for a final settlement, our correspondent says.