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She called the agreement “a modest first step in the right direction [and a] reminder that the world is transforming around us.”

The agreement followed the Feb. 23 meeting in Beijing between Glyn Davies, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, and Kim Kye-gwan, North Korea’s first vice foreign minister.

At the meeting, U.S. officials also reaffirmed that Washington has no “hostile intent toward” North Korea and “is prepared to take steps to improve our bilateral relationship in the spirit of mutual respect for sovereignty and equality,” Ms. Nuland said.

Such positive rhetoric signals the first thaw in U.S.-North Korea relations since six-nation talks with Pyongyang broke down after the communist government violated a 2005 agreement to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons in exchange for aid and security guarantees.

The six-nation talks - involving the United States, Russia, China, Japan and North and South Korea - were declared effectively dead in 2009 when North Korea claimed to have successfully created an underground nuclear explosion.