The US plans to remove North Korea from a terrorism blacklist today after getting assurances the Stalinist nation has agreed to a plan to inspect its nuclear facilities.
Diplomats briefed on the matter say US President George Bush signed off on the move yesterday in a bid to salvage a faltering disarmament accord aimed at getting North Korea to abandon atomic weapons.
But they say North Korea will be put back on the list if it does not comply with the inspections.
It comes as North Korea moves to restart a disabled nuclear reactor and takes other actions that threaten the agreement.
Meanwhile, North Korea released pictures of leader Kim Jong Il today for the first time in nearly two months, showing the reclusive ruler looking generally well despite reports he recently underwent brain surgery.
Wearing his trademark khaki jump-suit and sunglasses, Kim was seen standing with uniformed soldiers with his arms folded or his hands behind his back.
The photos were taken during a visit to a military unit, and shown on Pyongyang's Korean Central Television.
Kim appeared healthy in the images, though it was unclear when they were taken.
It was the first footage of Kim released since August 14, according to South Korea's Unification Ministry, in charge of relations with North Korea.
The 66-year-old leader, believed to have diabetes and heart disease, had missed several key holidays in recent months, most notably North Korea's 60th birthday last month.
US and South Korean officials have said Kim suffered a stroke and underwent brain surgery. North Korea has denied he was ill.
Earlier today, the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported without images that Kim visited an all-female military unit but did not specify exactly when the inspection took place.
Concern over Kim's absence was especially pointed since Pyongyang abandoned an international disarmament-for-aid accord and stopped disabling its Yongbyon nuclear reactor in mid-August.