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North Korea's nuclear overture: Honest offer or old tricks?

Media reports Tuesday suggest that Pyongyang is prepared to discuss its nuclear program with the US – a significant step back from recent brinksmanship.

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Pyongyang has reportedly invited the Obama administration's special envoy to North Korea to come and discuss the country's nuclear program.

As is almost always the case with North Korea, the question is: Why?

It could be a desperate attempt to head off another round of international sanctions that are already crippling the North's feeble economy.

It could signal renewed attempts by North Korea to pry the United States away from its regional partners, who also oppose the North's nuclear ambitions.

Or it may mean that North Korea is seeking a way to re-enter the good graces of the international community – though diplomats who have been burned by Pyongyang in the past will see this as a long shot.

Whatever the explanation, the invitation, if confirmed, would build upon the overtures that Pyongyang has recently made toward South Korea after months of belligerence, including a nuclear detonation and long-range missile tests.

Does North Korea really want improved relations with neighbors and the world, or is it simply up to its old tricks?

Perhaps it is at least stepping away from the bellicose actions of the past few months, says James "Clay" Moltz, a North Korea expert at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif.

Facing bleak economic prospects and what some believe could be an imminent leadership transition, North Korea "seems to have come to a realization that the hard-line policy was simply not sustainable," he says. "That doesn't mean they've abandoned the hard line, but they may have felt compelled to put it on the back burner."

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