leader

When Baylor senior linebacker Bryce Hager steps on the field at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on Saturday, he’ll be competing on behalf of two families: his biological family and his Baylor family. Although both will undoubtedly root for Hager’s success, their common loyalties may stop there.

Hager didn’t receive an offer from Texas as a high school senior, but he dwells among Longhorns when he visits home. Before entering the NFL, Hager’s father, Britt, played for Texas from 1985-88, and he still holds the program’s single-season tackles record — 195 — and all-time tackles record with 499 tackles. 

After eight years in the NFL, Britt Hager came back to Austin to raise his family. In addition to sending his kids to Westlake High School, Britt molded each of his four sons into football players. The youngest of the four, Breckyn, is a two-star linebacker, according to Rivals, who has received offers from SMU, San Diego State, Oklahoma, Baylor and Texas. Breckyn originally committed to the Bears, ready to follow in his older brother’s footsteps. But on Sept. 24, he flipped his commitment from Baylor to Texas, crossing family lines. The Hager legacy in Waco now rests on Bryce’s shoulders. An All-American candidate like his father — Britt Hager was an All-American at Texas before signing with the Philadelphia Eagles — Bryce Hager is a leader for the Bears’ defense, both on and off the field.

Leading the team with 21 tackles through the first four games of 2014, Hager’s statistical dominance isn’t anything new. Even when a groin tear, which required surgery, shortened his 2013 season, he still racked up 71 tackles. And he’d already led the Big 12 in tackles as a sophomore in 2012, averaging 9.5 tackles per game for a total of 124 tackles.

The defense suffered without him down the stretch last season, allowing 446 yards per game compared to just 306 when he was on the field. Hager missed last season’s Texas-Baylor matchup, which proved to be the de facto conference championship game. And, as he continued to mount missed games and underwent surgery, Hager worried he might not be able to return to form.

“Just being able to take on a hit again — you don’t know how it’s going to feel, if your legs are going to give out,” Hager told The Dallas Morning News in August. “I could run around and do everything; it was just the mental side.”        

Any mental struggles or lack of confidence should be long gone now. Allowing just 80 rushing yards per game, Baylor leads the Big 12 and ranks sixth in the nation. Its 8.5 tackles for loss per game ranks fifth in the nation, and its 3.74 yards allowed per play ranks fourth. The Bears haven’t always been such a powerhouse, Hager recalls. But he says that’s what makes the success even more exciting.

“It’s been a crazy ride going from winning five games in the conference to being Big 12 champions,” Hager told KVUE this week. “It’s something you could only dream about, it’s something that we accomplished and we’re really excited about the journey.”   

Last year’s Big 12 championship was, in fact, a dream come true for many Bears. But it was also a dream Hager missed being a part of because he was sidelined by injury. Now, with the renewed family rivalry, Hager’s excited to take on the Longhorns. When he looks to the stands, he’s not sure if he’ll find his family in burnt orange or green and gold. But, as the leader of the Bears’ defense, he knows family will be by his side.

Senior defensive end Cedric Reed had an impressive 2013 campaign but was overshadowed by All-American Jackson Jeffcoat. This year, Reed looks to take advantage of his situation and turn into “the guy” for the Texas defense.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Last August, senior defensive end Cedric Reed was nothing more than “the other guy.” 

Star defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat was returning for his senior season as the leader of the Texas defense, and hardly anybody even knew who the other defensive end was.

Now, just a year later, Reed is one of the most recognizable names on the Texas roster and has taken over as the leader of the Longhorn defense.

It may have been overshadowed by Jeffcoat’s incredible campaign last year, but Reed’s 2013 season was impressive in it’s own right, and the numbers back it up. Reed, a native of Cleveland, Texas, finished the season with 79 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, five forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. If he weren’t playing alongside a consensus All-American, he might as well have been the best defensive player on the team.

Since then, Reed has been working with the new Texas coaching staff to improve his game, as he looks to replicate Jeffcoat’s accomplishments from last year.

“Just being with [strength] Coach [Pat] Moorer in one offseason, it is amazing to see what happened,” Reed said. “I put on about 10-15 pounds, and I can definitely feel it out on the field. It hasn’t slowed me down a bit.” 

The physical improvements may be more obvious to the average eye, but it is Reed’s improvements on the mental side of the game that have impressed his coaches most.

“I can see plays more now,” Reed said. “With [defensive line] coach [Chris] Rumph I see a lot more things. My awareness is high. I think I am a better player than I was last year.”

It is to nobody’s amazement that the 6-foot-5-inch senior’s game has improved drastically compared to where he was last summer. But even Reed, who has always been quiet, has been surprised by how much he’s developed as a leader in his final season.

“When we were at workouts, I said something, and I turned around and these little freshmen had these little puppy faces, and they were just looking at me like, ‘What do we do next?’” Reed said. “It just surprises you how much your leadership grows when you become a senior. Rumph got after me a little bit when he first got here because I was all quiet, and it just wasn’t me. But I think I really surprised myself with some of the leadership roles I’ve put on for him.”

Just as Reed was an unknown commodity a year ago, junior defensive end Shiro Davis is the unproven guy this year. If Davis can benefit from Reed’s improved leadership skills, don’t be surprised to see this article again next year, with Davis replacing Reed. The only question is, who will be “the other guy?”

No matter what else is going on around the league, the Dallas Cowboys just can’t seem to stay out of the national spotlight, often times for all the wrong reasons. So it was only fitting that during the NFL’s OTA period, America’s team was once again the on the receiving end of some bad news.

Rookie offensive tackle Zach Martin pancaked Sean Lee to the ground causing Lee to tear his ACL. The Cowboys tried to remain optimistic in the days after the injury, but reality set in quickly. An MRI showed just how serious the injury was: The leader of the Cowboys’ defense was out for the season before Dallas had even played a game. Now Lee will be spending his time teaching defensive schemes to young linebackers from the sidelines.

To some extent it was simply a case of bad luck falling on the Cowboys. The drill the team was participating in was supposed to be a non-contact drill. Someone must explain how the Cowboys best defensive player suffered a torn ACL after being flattened in a non-contact drill.

The injury also brings up the question of whether veteran leaders such as Lee should be told to sit out certain offseason activities. Each year, the NFL sees a plethora of top players lost to season-ending injuries in the early stages of the offseason. Teams cannot afford to keep losing key players to unnecessary injuries.

This is a year when the Cowboys will be under pressure to make the playoffs. The past three seasons, the Cowboys have been unable to get past the eight-win mark, and they have not made it to the playoffs since 2009. Owner Jerry Jones has not been quiet about his team’s struggles in recent seasons. He has set the bar high once again for his team, threatening to make drastic changes if there isn’t significant improvement. Losing defensive leader Sean Lee certainly won’t make such improvements any easier. 

Junior Steve Edmond returns an intercepted ball against Ole Miss during the Longhorns’ 2012 season. Edmond may prove to be a key player for Texas next year as he returns for his final season. 

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s note: Junior linebacker Steve Edmond is the third of five “Players to Watch” who will be featured leading up to the Orange-White scrimmage Mar. 30. The fourth, Quandre Diggs, will be published Thursday.

Steve Edmond won’t talk your ear off and probably wouldn’t win a screaming contest. 

The junior linebacker, known among coaches for his soft-spoken nature, has been overlooked as a leader in the past because of his shy ways.

“Steve is very quiet,” head coach Mack Brown said last year of Edmond. “He’s very bright. He’s not going to let you know he’s bright, because he’s not going to talk to you. He won’t look at you in some cases. But he’s got great instincts.”

On the field, the unobtrusive characteristics drift away, and he morphs into a powerful ax with hard hits and speed. Edmond, who won three straight state championships in high school and came to Texas as one of ESPNU’s top 150 national prospects, played in 12 games during his first year, adding 16 tackles. 

As a sophomore, he played in all 13 games, starting 12 at middle linebacker, and his numbers made him second on the team in tackles and tied for second in forced fumbles. 

But now the stakes are higher for the Daingerfield, Texas native, who will enter his junior year with the pressure of keeping his starting spot and competing against other top linebackers including Dalton Santos and Jordan Hicks

“The competition between Dalton Santos and Steve Edmond has been great because Steve’s playing much better and Dalton’s all over the place,” Brown said. “I think Steve is at a different place with his intensity than he was this time last year.”

A large part of that intensity has come with increased conditioning to trim down during spring practice. As Santos worked tirelessly to lose weight, Edmond followed suit, Brown said.

Santos, a sophomore who saw action in all 13 games last year and led the team in special teams tackles, isn’t giving Edmond an easy time. But the teammate rivalry between the two has helped Edmond as a player.

“Dalton Santos has made Steve Edmond better,” defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Manny Diaz said. “I think Steve has made some big improvements over the last week or so. It’s just a battle, and I am keeping score.”

Hicks is returning from last year’s hip injury and will provide another threat for Edmond if he can stay healthy. A fellow junior who played in every game as a freshman and in 13 games as a sophomore, Hicks brings strength, size and leadership to the field. Sophomore Peter Jinkens, who served as a reserve linebacker and started three games last season, is also vying for a starting slot. 

For now, Edmond will continue to plug away in the spring, toning his body, working on tackling and growing quietly as a leader. 

Published on March 25, 2013 as "Edmond lets play speak for itself". 

Last Friday, after a hacker broke into the email account of former President George W. Bush’s sister Dorothy, correspondence belonging to the Bush family went viral — most notably, images of President Bush’s paintings of himself, disrobed and in the shower.

One painting shows the president’s apparently muscular back as he gazes in a mirror in the shower; another displays his outstretched legs in a bathtub. They are almost as unskillful as they are awkward. I doubt I would be any better at painting a nude of myself, but then again, that’s why I don’t try. I would be even more reluctant to produce such a painting — not to mention unleash the beast onto the Internet — if someone accused me of being “the leader of the free world.”

Millions, including myself, delighted in mocking yet another of Bush’s clumsy gaffes — not because we particularly care about how he performs at his hobbies, but because it is kind of fun to catch powerful people in embarrassing moments.

When she was informed of the leaked emails, Dorothy Bush could only respond, “Why would someone do this?”

That’s a good question, and one that many Americans asked of the Bush administration after President Bush admitted that the National Security Agency had been engaging in unconstitutional, warrantless wiretaps. For years, federal agents monitored the telephone calls, emails and text messages of American citizens without any legal justification. None of those citizens could demand a Secret Service investigation, because the Bush administration’s suspension of basic civil liberties rendered every American a suspect, not a victim.

The Bush family’s hacked images and emails were popular on Facebook and Twitter for a few days. But an event that could have been used to reinvigorate a discussion of invasive security measures devolved into a fodder for short-lived entertainment.

America enjoys the fall of its icons. Even if we hide behind the guise of disappointment and moral superiority, we love to watch scandals unfold. The vast majority of the population has had no vested interest in Lance Armstrong’s career, but 28 million of us watched Oprah’s most recent interview, captivated by stories of syringes dumped in Coke cans.

I am not particularly interested in shaming anyone for rubbernecking. However, an obsession with scandal can become a problem when it takes precedence over enforcing high expectations for our leaders.

Last November, then-CIA Director David Petraeus announced that he was resigning because he had engaged in an extramarital affair. Colleagues and government officials, including President Barack Obama, emphasized that they were shocked and saddened by the news. For a week, newspapers ran profiles of his former mistress Paula Broadwell and revealed details about the “steamy romance.”

The media scandal died down, and the most reprehensible consequences of Petraeus’ departure are receiving far less national attention. Last Thursday, John Brennan’s confirmation hearing for the CIA director position commenced. Brennan, a UT graduate and the current Homeland Security Advisor, is one of the driving forces behind the Obama administration’s increasingly aggressive drone program, which has killed hundreds of innocent civilians abroad, including children. Petraeus’ consensual relationship with an adult is a career-ending scandal, but replacing him with a leader in favor of high-tech mass killings is business as usual.

Also last week, Obama released a memo detailing the total authority the White House has over American lives. The previously classified document provides a justification for targeted drone strikes against individuals, including Americans, suspected of terrorist activity.

The memo serves as the justification for the drone strike against American citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, who was suspected of working with al-Qaida. It may also have been the document that gave the government authority to kill al-Awlaki’s son, Abdulrahman, a 16-year-old American citizen with no concrete ties to any terrorist organization. The minor was killed in a drone strike at a café in Yemen two weeks after his father’s death.

If Abdulrahman al-Awlaki’s case and the recent memo are any indication of the Obama administration’s stance toward security, American citizens can be executed without warning or trial simply by knowing — or being born to — the wrong people.

Nonetheless, The Daily Texan didn’t even publish a news article regarding the groundbreaking announcement. The paper has published five articles on UT assistant football coach Major Applewhite’s “inappropriate relationships” and three on the Lance Armstrong scandal since the beginning of 2013.

I enjoy news about embarrassing celebrity moments as much as the next person, because we could all use a reminder that the idols we glorify are fallible. But we should use that reminder to stop putting leaders on pedestals and instead hold them accountable.

The most atrocious scandals are not uncovered through email exchanges or leaked photos: They are codified into our laws and upheld by our institutions. There is a distinction between being a voyeur and being an engaged citizen. Egalitarian democracies rely on recognizing the difference.

San Luis is a Plan II, English and women’s and gender studies senior from Buda.

After the circus of this presidential election is over, a president will be inaugurated in January.  The leader of our “One Nation Under God” will be sworn in with his hand on a Bible.  But it’s time for our government to follow the rest of the country and become more secular, honoring the principle of separation of church and state.

On Oct. 9, the Pew Research Center published a poll that showed that, for the first time, fewer than half of  all American adults (48 percent) claim to be Protestant Christians.  Not only that, the number of religiously unaffiliated has increased to 20 percent of all American adults, up from 15 percent five years ago. This includes more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6 percent of the U.S. public) — a plurality (42 percent) of which are ages 18 to 29.

But our government doesn’t reflect the country’s movement away from organized religion.  Only one congressman, California Democrat Pete Stark, is openly atheist.  In fact, Texas and a few other states have laws against atheist politicians.  The very Constitution of our “God-blessed” state reads, “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.”

That law currently seems unnecessary, since, according to a June Gallup Poll, only 54 percent of Americans would vote for an atheist (regardless of their political views) in a presidential election.

Thankfully, the students I spoke to on campus were more open-minded.  Travis Granado, a philosophy and religious studies sophomore, said he’s “more concerned with how public policy will be affected by a candidate’s religious convictions than I am about finding a candidate that has religious views similar to mine.”

André Treiber of the University Democrats  recognizes that religion is very personal, and he argues that it should stay that way.  “I will not cast a vote for a candidate that would enforce their religious beliefs onto other people,” Treiber said. “Past that, I don’t do anything like pray over issues or candidates, nor do I let a candidate’s personal religious preference have an effect on my vote.”

Both students expressed concern over religion’s current involvement in politics.  Governor Rick Perry’s resistance to gays serving openly in the military especially concerned Granado. “It made me question his ability to provide equality for all Americans if his idea of equality is dependent on adherence to a religious belief system,” he said.  Treiber agreed, saying, “I think religion has a very negative effect on politics. Currently, we are seeing gays and lesbians denied marriage and a woman’s right to make her own private decisions under attack, all loosely justified by clinging to Bible scripture.”

Gay marriage is indeed an issue especially affected by religion; the Oct. 9 Pew Research Center poll found that 73 percent of the religiously unaffiliated approved of same-sex marriage, whereas only 41 percent of those affiliated with a religious group approved of it.

The Young Conservatives of Texas did not respond to an interview request, but we shouldn’t mistakenly believe that only the “religious right” hides behind religion. Last month, the Democrats included God in their national platform. 

It’s time for American political parties to start abiding by the First Amendment’s separation of church and state. I have faith that God can take care of Himself; let’s take care of ourselves by defending freedom, regardless of religion. 

McCann is a Plan II freshman from Dallas.

Billy Corgan cannot be stopped. The longtime leader of The Smashing Pumpkins has lost all of his founding members, but he is still moving forward. The Pumpkins are his band, his dream, and if he wants to release Oceania, a full length release within the bold concept album Teargarden by Kaleidyscope, he will — because Corgan is a man of ambition.

But it’s hard to achieve greatness alone, so he enlisted the help of Mike Byrne (drums), Nicole Fiorentino (bass) and Jeff Schroeder (rhythm guitar). According to the band, the album is largely a collaborative effort, but it’s obvious that Corgan is pulling the strings musically and lyrically. That being said, the new members add a fresh energy to the band, especially to Corgan, who sounds revitalized and enthusiastic. Jimmy Chamberlin and his percussive creativity is sorely missed, but Byrne does a solid job on the kit and nearly fills Chamberlin’s enormous shoes.

The first two tracks of the album serve as a testament to the worth of the new members. “Quasar” is heavy and fast-paced, reminiscent of “Cherub Rock.” It flows well into “Panopticon,” another familiar sounding alt-rock song featuring grandiose drums and a vocal melody that floats above a fuzzy chord progression. These tracks prove that this ensemble can capture the Pumpkins’ ‘90s sound.

This album, however, is beyond customary, heavily distorted, guitar-driven alternative rock. Corgan draws on his electronic and progressive influences as well. His use of keyboards and electronic effects gives the album an intriguing array of fresh sounds. Eerie sustained keyboards provide an excellent build up in “Violet Rays,” which fruitfully combines his electronic and rock influences.

The structures of his songs reveal the scope of his imagination. There are no strict patterns, and often a song will completely switch gears multiple times. Chord-based guitar rock breaks down into an acoustic respite, only to ascend back to full force on the wings of cosmic keyboards and punchy bass in the nine-minute title track, a strong example of their progressive nature. As usual, Corgan is not afraid to experiment with his music or its form. But his boldness can have its drawbacks: The song ends with a tedious two minute guitar solo, as do many other songs on the album.

Perhaps because of his age, Corgan’s lyrics have lost much of their angst, and surprisingly most of the songs are about love. Even on “The Chimera,” one of the heavier tracks, Corgan sings, “So please need me too/What you need is love, stranger.” He has abandoned much of his pessimistic outlook, but has retained his passion. And that’s just it. Oceania is an album that manages to be inventive because Corgan is still passionate about his art and his band.

Linebacker Keenan Robinson (#1) in the 2011 Holiday Bowl (Daily Texan file photo from December 28, 2011).

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

Keenan Robinson is an aggressive linebacker who can hit hard. He finished this season with 96 tackles, eight of them for a loss, two interceptions and two sacks. A three-year starter at inside linebacker, Robinson redshirted his freshman year and played in 51 games for the Longhorns while making 39 starts.

When the Longhorns struggled in 2010, he became the leader of the defense and led the team with 113 tackles. No other member of the team had more than 90 that season.

He is likely a fourth or fifth round prospect and thrives in a 4-3 defense.

At the combine, Robinson had the sixth-highest amount of reps in the bench press out of 29 linebackers with 27. In addition, he performed well in the vertical jump with a distance of 35.5 inches. His jump was tied with fellow Texas linebacker Emmanuel Acho and West Virginia’s Najee Goode for 11th amongst linebackers.

At 6-foot-3 and 242 pounds, Robinson is quick off the snap and is impressive when chasing down ball-carriers. But, according to his player profile from the Combine, “He struggles when rushing the passer and looks stunned when an offensive lineman gets his hands on him.”

Robinson has the athletic ability to do well in the NFL, but his speed will not help him nearly as much when he plays professionally. NFL teams will look for him to play smarter.

The Eagles and Panthers are potential prospects for Robinson.

After the combine, Robinson tweeted, “Came to the combine...accomplished just about all I wanted to accomplish...now its back to Cali to train for Pro Day... #NoQuestion.”

Printed on Tuesday, February 28, 2012 as: Robinson's athleticism helping his draft stock, combine performance

Xi Jinping | China’s Vice President

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa — The last time China’s soon-to-be leader visited Iowa, he slept in a bedroom with green shag carpeting and Star Trek character cutouts on the walls. He ate eggs with a spoon because his host forgot the chopsticks.

But apparently Xi Jinping remembered the 1985 stay fondly because he insisted on returning this week to Muscatine, a small farming community he toured to learn about crop and livestock practices.

Back then, he was a young Communist Party leader seeking ideas to help his agriculture-rich region of northern China. Now the nation’s vice president, he made certain to add Muscatine to his jam-packed itinerary so he could reunite with the same Americans who showed him around the region’s hog and cattle operations and its abundant corn and soybean fields.

“I’m flabbergasted that he would take time out of his busy schedule and come back to Muscatine,” said Eleanor Dvorchak, whose family hosted him for two nights.

Although Dvorchak and her husband have since moved to Florida, they planned to return Wednesday for Xi’s hour-long visit, and several other local farmers and residents he encountered will be there, too.

Some local officials were encouraged that specifically Iowa agriculture was to play such a prominent part in a trip by the future leader of the world’s most populous country.

“It sends a signal that the new leader is not a stranger to the U.S. and that he has experience and familiarity with America by reaching right into the heartland,” said David Shorr, a foreign-policy specialist at the Stanley Foundation.

Xi is expected to ascend to the nation’s highest office next year and could lead China over the next decade. His schedule called for him to meet with President Barack Obama on Tuesday in Washington before flying to Iowa.

China has become an increasingly important trading partner for the United States. It purchased $20 billion in U.S. agriculture exports last year, making it the top buyer of farm goods.

In 1985, Xi stayed with the Dvorchaks, their 15-year-old daughter, and their dog in a four-bedroom ranch home. The Star Trek-themed room had been left unchanged after the couple’s sons went to college.

Eleanor Dvorchak, now 72, recalled a handsome 31-year-old man who was calm and intensely focused on learning as much as possible during his brief trip. He kept busy until late each day, so all he needed when he returned in the evening was peace and quiet, she said.

“My job was to provide him with breakfast and a quiet place for him to relax and think, to give him time to pull his thoughts together for the next day,” she said. “It was just a pleasure to have him in our home. He was very undemanding.”

The language barrier made conversation difficult, but Xi was interested in touring the home and seemed impressed with the two-car garage and large concrete driveway that had a basketball hoop, she said.

She speculated that Xi wanted to return because volunteers in Muscatine were generous with their time as they showed the Chinese delegation their farms and the community, and invited them into their homes.

Cynthia Maeglin, who hosted two men who accompanied Xi in 1985, said she and her husband were accustomed to inviting overseas guests into their home since they hosted exchange students after studying abroad in high school.

Xi and the Chinese guests would have breakfast, then leave for the day to visit farms and businesses. The men got an up-close look at small-town life, and Maeglin believes it stuck with them.

“I think from just being in our home, they could see how we lived,” Maeglin said. “At the time, our youngest son was still living at home. They could see how our family life was.”

Sarah Lande, whose family hosted a dinner during that visit, is organizing the reunion at the request of Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad. She plans to gather about 16 people for tea or champagne to reminisce.

After the Muscatine visit, Xi is to fly to Des Moines for a reception with political and business leaders and a dinner hosted by Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds.

On Thursday, he was scheduled to attend the first U.S.-China Agriculture Symposium in Des Moines. China’s minister of agriculture, Han Changfu, was also expected to attend.

Branstad compares the significance of Xi’s visit to the 1979 Iowa visit of Pope John Paul II and the 1959 farm stop by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.

“The fact that he’s going to be the leader of China, he obviously has a very friendly and positive feeling about Iowa,” Brandstad said. “It could be a tremendous asset for us going forward.”

Printed on Wednesday, February 15, 2012 as: China's future leader revisits Iowa town with fond memories

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, right, and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, left, are seen during a meeting at a military garrison near the city of Ulan-Ude in Buryatia, Russia, on Wednesday. North Korea is ready to impose a moratorium on nuclear missile tests if international talks resume.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

MOSCOW — North Korean leader Kim Jong Il says his country is ready to impose a nuclear test and production moratorium if international talks on its atomic program resume, in Pyongyang’s latest effort to restart long-stalled, aid-for-disarmament talks.

It remains to be seen, however, whether Kim’s reported gesture at a summit Wednesday with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will satisfy the most skeptical of the five other nations at talks meant to end the North’s nuclear weapons ambitions — the United States, South Korea and Japan.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Wednesday that Kim Jong Il’s reported offer to refrain from nuclear and missile tests was “a welcome first step” but not enough to restart six-party disarmament talks.

Kim, at the summit in eastern Siberia, reportedly made no mention of an issue that lies at the heart of negotiators’ worries: North Korea’s recently revealed uranium enrichment program.

Medvedev spokeswoman Natalya Timakova was quoted by the ITAR-Tass news agency as saying that Kim expressed readiness to return to the nuclear talks without preconditions, and, “in the course of the talks, North Korea will be ready to resolve the question of imposing a moratorium on tests and production of nuclear missile weapons.”

The North promised to freeze its long-range missile tests in 1999, but has since routinely tested short-range missiles and launched a long-range rocket in April 2009. It has also conducted two nuclear tests, most recently in 2009, and last year it shelled a South Korean front-line island, killing four, and allegedly torpedoed a South Korean warship, killing 46.

The North has repeatedly said it wants the so-called six-party nuclear talks to resume. Washington and Seoul, however, have been wary, calling first for an improvement in the abysmal ties between the Koreas and for a sincere sign from the North that it will abide by past commitments it has made in previous rounds of the nuclear talks.

The six-sided nuclear talks involving North Korea and the United States, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea have been stalled since December 2008. But faced with deepening sanctions and economic trouble, North Korea has pushed to restart them.

On another subject, Medvedev said Russia and North Korea moved forward on a proposal to ship natural gas to South Korea through a pipeline across North Korea.

North Korea had long been reluctant to help its powerful archenemy increase its gas supply, but recently has shown interest in the project. The South wants Russian energy but is wary of North Korean influence over its energy supply.