It wasn’t so very long ago that the North Koreans were making demands, à la legends in their own minds, for recognition as a nuclear state with phenomenal cosmic powers before they would deign to sit down with the United States and South Korea for diplomatic discussions — but oh, how the tables have turned in that tiny and poverty-stricken country. After suddenly and ignominiously cancelling on their immediate neighbors to the south last week, their state news agency reported early Sunday that the NorKs are now proposing high-level talks with the U.S. in the hopes of easing “tensions in the Korean Peninsula,” via CNN:

The topics that “can be sincerely discussed” include easing military tensions, changing a truce treaty to a peace treaty, and nuclear matters, according to a statement from the North’s National Defense Commission, as reported by the state-run Korean Central News Agency. It left some details — like where and when the talks might be held — up to Washington, and insisted U.S. officials should not lay out any preconditions for talks.

“(The United States should) not lose the opportunity that is laid out and should actively agree with our resolute step and good intention,” the commission said. …

It was something of an about face for the recently saber-rattling country, but it sounds like they were trying to maintain some level of self-imagined dignity with their demand that the United States not encumber them with any pesky nuclear-disarming preconditions before they’re allowed a seat at the adults’ table. My suspicion is that they are perhaps starting to feel the hurt of some of the economic sanctions and aid restrictions taking effect and are trying to save some face, but the U.S., of course, is having none of it:

Washington has been skeptical of such overtures, given North Korea’s history of alternating between provocations and engagement.

“We have always favored dialogue and, in fact, have open lines of communication” with North Korea, Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, was quoted by Reuters as saying.

“Our desire is to have credible negotiations with the North Koreans, but those talks must involve North Korea living up to its obligations to the world, including compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions, and ultimately result in denuclearization,” Reuters quoted Ms. Hayden as saying. “We will judge North Korea by its actions, and not its words, and look forward to seeing steps that show North Korea is ready to abide by its commitments and obligations.”

Even China, however — North Korea’s biggest diplomatic and financial buddy — is getting a little tired of playing babysitter, apparently. In California last week, President Xi Jinping said he agreed with President Obama on the point of a denuclearized North Korea, and his country is planning to bring it up at their own diplomatic discussions in short order:

China’s Foreign Ministry will hold a strategic dialogue with North Korea this week following Pyongyang’s surprise offer of new talks with the U.S., a ministry spokeswoman said Monday.

Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui will meet North Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan on Wednesday in Beijing, ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters at a regularly scheduled briefing. Hua said the two will discuss bilateral relations and the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

“China has been paying close attention to developments on the peninsula, and has been actively working toward the early resumption of dialogue and negotiation by all sides,” Hua said, referring to long-stalled six-nation nuclear disarmament talks hosted by China that include South Korea, Japan, Russia, the U.S. and North Korea.