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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 October, 2003, 15:10 GMT
N Korea 'to resume nuclear talks'
Wu Bangguo
Wu Bangguo's visit may have broken the deadlock
North Korea has agreed "in principle" to further talks on its controversial nuclear programme, Chinese and North Korean media have reported.

The announcement appeared to be a result of Chinese pressure on the North to resume the talks process, which has been stalled since August.

It came after one of China's most senior leaders, Wu Bangguo, met with North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il.

"China and [North Korea] agreed in principle here Thursday to continue the process of six-party talks," the official Xinhua news agency said in a dispatch from Pyongyang.

Beijing hosted six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear programme in August, but these ended inconclusively, with Pyongyang vowing to press ahead with its nuclear plans.

However, China's foreign ministry and state media said on Thursday that Mr Wu had "repeatedly" told North Korean leaders that talks were the only avenue to resolve the crisis.

There had been mounting hopes of a breakthrough after North Korea responded positively this week to an apparent concession by the US and its Asian allies.

Pyongyang said it was prepared to consider a US offer of some kind of security guarantee in return for an end to its nuclear programme.

Talks goal

North Korean radio said on Thursday that it would take part in the talks if they were aimed at bringing about a solution based on "the principle of simultaneous actions" - in other words, that both sides meet each other's demands at the same time.

Kim Jong-il

In addition to a guarantee that Washington will not attack, North Korea demands include economic aid and the opening of a formal diplomatic relationship.

The question of timing - who makes their concession first - is a major sticking point between the two sides.

China also emphasised the need to resolve the concerns of North Korea and the United States simultaneously, Xinhua news agency said.

The other issue that has held up diplomatic progress is the nature of the agreement.

Previously North Korea had insisted only on a formal non-aggression treaty which would have required congressional approval and could have seriously tied Washington's hands.

It now appears that Pyongyang is prepared to consider a less formal pact.

'Agreement by letter'

Unconfirmed Japanese media reports on Thursday said North Korea had now offered to settle for a letter of assurance on its security from US President George W Bush.

North Korea is already believed to have one or two nuclear bombs and recently said it had extracted plutonium from 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods to build more.

The nuclear crisis began last October when US officials said North Korea had admitted to having a secret nuclear programme, in defiance of a 1994 agreement.

China, one of North Korea's few allies, has played a key role in mediating between Pyongyang and Washington.

Chinese state television reported on Thursday that Kim Jong-il, who rarely makes trips abroad, had accepted Chinese President Hu Jintao's invitation to visit China again.

Mr Kim said he would do so "at his convenience," CCTV said.



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