The UN Security Council's likely adoption of a statement on the sinking of a South Korean war on Friday without explicitly blaming the North will begin to shift focus to disarmament talks aimed at reining in Pyongyang.
The conclusion of a month-long diplomacy orchestrated by South Korea and the United States with a Council president's statement will also likely mean the levelling off of tension fuelled by threats of war, analysts said.
"This bodes well for the six-party talks, in the way the wording stresses peace and security in Northeast Asia, which also has China's role as mediator in mind," said Baek Seung-joo of the state-affilaited Korea Institute for Defence Analyses in Seoul.
South Korea had hoped to see the Council adopt a new resolution with binding sanctions imposed on its neighbour as punishment for what it sees as a torpedo attack launched from a submarine that intruded into disputed waters.
Diplomats at the UN said a draft statement circulated on Thursday by the United States condemned what it called an attack leading to the sinking of the Cheonan but stopped short of unequivocally blaming the North.
The draft has been agreed by the five permanent council members, including Pyongyang's ally China, and will likely be put to a vote when its 15 member states meet again on Friday at 1330 GMT, UN officials said.
"This falls short of the (South Korean) government's plan to hold the North responsible at the Security Council and to put sanctions," Baek said.
South Korea, Japan and the United States already have sanctions in place aimed at punishing the North for the sinking of the corvette Cheonan in March that killed 46 sailors, and Seoul may impose more as it had pledged to do in its aftermath.
The president's statement, with the absence of a blame laid on the North, reflected the traditional course of diplomacy taken by China and also Russia that was often based on self interest over what other states presented as hard evidence, Baek said.
"China's interest in this case was to check against U.S. control over the Korea issue," he said.
The six-way talks by the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia and hosted by China had been stalled since late 2007 and its core agreement to compensate Pyongyang in return for moves to end its nuclear programme appeared to lose all momentum as the North defied warnings and tested a long-range missile and set off a nuclear device in 2009, drawing more UN sanctions.
Analysts said those sanctions squeezed the North's failed economy deeper into hardship and drove Pyongyang's leaders to take provocative actions to divert attention from domestic woes and boost the stakes for disarmament talks.
"As long as Kim Jong-il's 'military-first policy' is in place, we can't rule out the possibility of a second and third Cheonan incident," said Ha Young-sun, international relations professor at the Seoul National University.
The Security Council statement will also ease discord between China and South Korea, a major investor and trading partner and may help to disperse friction between them that flared over large scale naval drills in the Yellow Sea.
Cai Jian, professor of Korean studies at Fudan University in Shanghai, said China, South Korea and others were searching for a compromise to put the worst of the recent discord behind them.
"This (draft) statement would be impossible unless the various sides were willing to compromise. China is compromising by going ahead with the statement that raises serious concern about the Cheonan, and South Korea has backed away from demanding that North Korea is condemned by name."