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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 September, 2003, 09:45 GMT 10:45 UK
N Korea softens stance on talks
Delegates at last week's six-nation talks
Last week's discussions apparently disappointed Pyongyang
North Korea has stressed that it still wants to solve the crisis over its nuclear programme through dialogue, despite recently dismissing last week's six-nation talks on the issue as useless.

"We have not yet changed our firm will to resolve the nuclear problem between the DPRK (North Korea) and the United States through dialogue," the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said in a commentary monitored by South Korea's Yonhap news organisation.

The statement contrasted sharply with comments in North Korea's media at the weekend, which said the communist state was not interested in discussing its controversial nuclear programme any further.

It comes as South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan left for Washington for talks with US Secretary of State Colin Powell, which are expected to focus on the next steps needed to break the nuclear impasse.

The only substantive progress made during last week's three-day meeting in Beijing was a decision by the delegates from North and South Korea, the US, Russia, Japan and China to meet again.

But North Korea's media coverage following the talks had thrown even that decision into doubt.

The meeting was "not only useless but harmful in every aspect", Pyongyang's state media said at the weekend.

On Monday, it added that America's demands were "a game even kids won't play", according to Russia's Interfax news agency.

But South Korean foreign policy advisor Ban Ki-moon said this was probably just a negotiating ploy.

"There seems to be a strategic side to North Korea's criticism of the six-nations talks," Mr Ban said on his Monday, as his colleague - national security advisor Ra Jong-yil - called for a renewed diplomatic push to kick-start negotiations.

Finding a middle ground

During the forthcoming US-South Korean meeting in Washington, Seoul is expected to encourage the US to adopt a slightly more flexible approach than it has until now, Adam Ward of the International Institute for Strategic Studies told the BBC.

"There's a concern in Seoul that the up-front approach is unlikely to be productive," he told the East Asia Today programme.

North Korea wants the US to pledge not to attack it, and to help it economically, but Washington has repeatedly said that North Korea must make the first move - by dismantling its nuclear programme.

"Without moving a single step itself, the United States is demanding that we take off all our clothes until we are naked," KCNA said on Monday.

The nuclear crisis flared last October when the US said North Korea had admitted to a covert nuclear weapons programme which violated a 1994 agreement between the two countries.

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