American and North Korean officials are to meet in Beijing to discuss North Korea's nuclear programme, the source of rising tensions in the region.
N Korea's secretive leaders seem ready for talks
According to US officials, the meeting will take place next week and the Chinese Government will also participate.
The meeting will be the first direct, high-level talks between Washington and Pyongyang since the crisis over North Korea's nuclear programme erupted in October.
North Korea had previously insisted on one-to-one talks with the United States, but last week hinted it was ready to drop that condition.
South Korea and Japan - key US allies in dealings with the North - will not take part in the talks. But both countries' leaders nevertheless welcomed news of the development.
It came shortly before the United Nations' top human rights body condemned North Korea for the first time.
The UN Commission on Human Rights voted by 28 to
10, with 14 abstentions, in favour of a resolution accusing Pyongyang
of widespread rights violations, including torture and public executions.
North Korea dismissed the charges as "fabrications".
Media reports, quoting unnamed US officials, said that the talks between North Korea, the US and China would be held on 23 April and were likely to last until 25 April.
A border post flies flags celebrating the 91st anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung
Officials said that the US representative at the talks would be Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly.
Mr Kelly accused North Korea of pursuing a nuclear programme in October last year, triggering the crisis.
An agreement on the three-way meeting was brokered by China, one US official told the French news agency AFP. Washington had suggested that a larger group of nations should be involved in the talks.
Oct 2002 - N.Korea "admits" secret nuclear arms programme
Nov 2002 - US decides to halt oil shipments to N.Korea
Dec 2002 - N.Korea expels two nuclear watchdog's inspectors
Jan 2003 - N.Korea says it is withdraws from Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
Feb 2003 - N Korea "reactivates" nuclear facilities
Apr 2003 - N Korea ends insistence on direct talks with US
The participation of the Chinese was described as a breakthrough by one official quoted in the New York Times newspaper.
"What's new here is that there is an
active, bold participatory role for the Chinese," the official was quoted as saying.
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Parts of the world would eagerly support the downfall of another state of this kind
China is a long-term ally of North Korea.
But South Korea's Foreign Minister, Yoon Young-kwan, stressed that both the US and China had promised that Seoul would eventually join the talks. Mr Yoon also indicated that Japan and Russia would be involved, the Associated Press reported.
Seoul abstained from the UN resolution on North Korea, which was voted on in Geneva.
Coinciding with the UN vote, lawmakers from the United States, Japan, Britain, Mongolia and South Korea gathered in Seoul on Wednesday for a human rights forum to inaugurate an inter-parliamentary body to help North Korean refugees.
Tens of thousands of North Koreans have fled starvation and repression in their homeland during recent years.