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Reading the North Korean tealeaves:

Where Kim Jong-Il's prison state is concerned, connecting the dots is hard, since there is a severe shortage of dots (not to mention food). However, is there room for a little heavily guarded optimism here?

North Korea seeks U.S. Signal On Talks:

North Korea wants a change in the political atmosphere before it will attend talks on its nuclear plans and has asked the United States to send a signal to that effect, a senior U.N. official said Thursday.

Jean Ping, president of the U.N. General Assembly, told reporters after talks with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun that North Korea had given him a message for the United States during a visit to Pyongyang.

"It was a message that the U.S. should give us signs that will improve the climate for negotiations," said Ping, who is Gabon's foreign minister.

North and South Korea, the United States, Japan, Russia and China have met for three inconclusive rounds of talks on its nuclear ambitions. U.S. officials say Pyongyang has one or two nuclear bombs and enough material for another six.

Wasn't it just awhile back that the NK's position was that it didn't care what the U.S. said? What's up here? Might it be that the "Dear Leader" has, to use Rush Limbaugh's slightly crass term, "assumed room temperature"?

Badges depicting North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, a key symbol of his cult of personality, are disappearing from peoples' chests in the communist country.

South Korea's Unification Ministry confirmed that lapel badges of Kim were no longer worn by North Koreans travelling from the Stalinist state to China on official business.

In the past, they wore either a badge portraying Kim or a similar badge portraying his father, the Stalinist state's founder Kim Il-Sung who died in 1994.

"North Koreans travelling to and from China who formerly wore the badge of either Kim Il-Sung or Kim Jong-Il on their chests, have stopped wearing the Kim Jong-Il badge," Yang Jeong-Hwa, a ministry official, told AFP, adding that her ministry could indirectly confirm the change.

"They are wearing only the Kim Il-Sung badge..."

Reports of the disappearing lapel badges follow recent confirmation that Kim Jong-Il's portraits have vanished from key sites visited by foreigners in Pyongyang.

When the icons of the cult of personality's adored one begin disappearing, it just might mean that the adored one has as well; and seeing as how no one's actually seen Kim lately makes one wonder...

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