Although it is already being spun by US President George W. Bush's advisers as decidedly not a shift in the existing US negotiating stance, the news that North Korea may be offered a security agreement of some kind is just what is needed to break the impasse in negotiations on the North's nuclear weapons programme. Whatever it is labelled, the move will at least bring North Korean President Kim Jong-il back to the negotiating table - and give him a reason not to escalate the crisis by testing or even selling nuclear weapons. The progress is made possible by an acknowledgment by the United States of the profound sense of isolation and insecurity that Mr Kim and his regime feel, and that addressing these fears is the only way forward. A state-to-state treaty between the US and North Korea seems out of the question. The breakdown last autumn of the 1994 Agreed Framework between the two means the US has lost faith in such bilateral agreements; thus the Americans' pursuit of six-way talks such as those that took place in Beijing in August, and now, the proposal for a five-nation guarantee of security for North Korea. An agreement with a small 'a', as Mr Bush's National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice put it, is surely better than what we have now - no agreement, just threats from the North Korean side and a 'no concessions without disarmament' stance from the Americans, while the rest of the region looks on in anxiety. The other countries involved in the talks that are set to resume in Beijing next month - Russia, South Korea, Japan and China - are in delicate positions of their own. Russia and China, whose sponsorship of the North dates back to the cold war and whose aid keeps the Kim regime afloat, may feel bound to protect the country if it is attacked. Japan, uncomfortable with the idea of nuclear weapons deployed so close to its shores, would be forced to debate seriously the possibility of acquiring nuclear weapons if the North goes any further than it already has - confirming that it has reprocessed plutonium for use in nuclear weapons. South Korea, whose 'sunshine policy' of engagement is now in disarray, cannot afford the political or economic cost of war in its own backyard. All wish to keep nuclear weapons off the peninsula. From what Ms Rice had to say, details of the plan are still sketchy and the US has yet to sound out the other countries on what form the final document will take. Yet it is the most concrete proposal to have come out of the six-way talks, one that stands a chance of accommodating the needs not just of North Korea but of all parties. Ms Rice says the aim is to end the North's nuclear ambitions once and for all - in a verifiable way. Before that can happen, progress must be made on Mr Kim's fundamental concerns.