As unpredictable as North Korea has been over the decades, there is always one certainty - that despite its isolationist stance, it needs the outside world to survive. That was why a 10-month hiatus in reconciliation talks with rival South Korea ended yesterday with a meeting of delegations at the North's border town of Kaesong. Despite months of acrimony between the sides against the backdrop of North Korea's alleged nuclear weapons programme, the talks were set in motion on the pretext of a request for 500,000 tonnes of fertiliser. Without the aid, the North, long unable to produce enough food for its people and therefore heavily reliant on foreign humanitarian assistance, would face an even more dire crisis. With time running out for the planting of crops, its leaders on Saturday acceded to demands for a resumption of face-to-face negotiations, which were cancelled last July after more than 400 North Korean defectors were airlifted to Seoul from Vietnam. The following month, Pyongyang boycotted cabinet-level talks with South Korea and then withdrew from six-nation negotiations on its nuclear programme scheduled for Beijing in September. Efforts by China, North Korea's closest ally, to get talks back on track have made no headway. But now that the North and South are talking again, a window of opportunity has opened. Pyongyang has rejected previous suggestions that inter-Korean meetings be used to discuss nuclear disarmament. Although participating in several rounds of talks with the South, China, the United States, Japan and Russia, it still regards Washington as the crux of its problems and therefore the only means through which a solution can be negotiated. The communist state declared on February 10 that it had nuclear weapons and would not participate in the six-party talks while the US maintained its 'hostile' stance. Washington has repeatedly said it has no intention of attacking the North and last week US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a conciliatory gesture by saying that 'the US, of course, recognises that North Korea is sovereign'. North Korea at the weekend rejected Dr Rice's remarks as a 'ploy', pointing to the tens of thousands of American military personnel based in the South since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War as proof of continued aggression. That number has been cut by 5,000 to 32,500 this year under a redeployment scheme, but two Patriot missile batteries have been installed in their wake. There is hope, nonetheless, now that the North has returned to the negotiating table and the US appears to be taking a softer line. A rare opportunity exists for South Korea to convince its long-time rival to rejoin dialogue on reducing tensions in Northeast Asia. It is a suggestion that North Korea must accept to take the heat out of what in recent months has become a dangerous situation.