A promise by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to improve the state's broken economy is forcing him to ask for massive aid and may even bring him back to nuclear talks that Pyongyang once declared dead.
Plenty of obstacles remain to reviving the disarmament-for-aid talks, not least the fact that Washington wants Pyongyang to recommit to giving up its nuclear activities before negotiations.
Kim, it appears, has backed himself into a corner after having pledged to turn North Korea into a "strong and prosperous nation" by 2012 to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of his father and the state's founder, Kim Il-sung. The year 2012 may also be the year when Kim Jong-il, 67, announces to his countrymen that he is handing over power to the youngest of his three sons.
Meeting that promise explain why he abruptly stopped raising tensions with the international community after numerous missile launches this year and a nuclear test in May.
"This puts pressure on the regime to get as much aid as it can, as fast as it can," said B.R. Myers, an expert on the North's state ideology at Dongseo University in South Korea. "To say that it will be a strong and prosperous country and to say that will be achieved by 2012, and to raise expectations, is actually a very risky thing."