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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 February, 2004, 07:39 GMT
N Korea nuclear talks date set
North Korean spent nuclear fuel rods in Yongbyon
North Korea will discuss its nuclear programme
North Korea has agreed to new six-way talks on its nuclear weapons programme, according to its state media.

Discussions will begin on 25 February, involving the United States, North Korea and other major parties, KCNA news agency reported.

China confirmed the date, but cautioned that resolving the nuclear stand-off would be a slow process.

Talks involving the US, China, Japan, Russia and North and South Korea last August ended inconclusively.

The crisis erupted in October, 2002, when US officials said North Korea admitted having an illicit nuclear weapons programme.

'Dangerous and unstable'

A statement from KCNA said: "The DPRK [North Korea] and the US, the major parties concerned to the six-way talks, and China, the host country, agreed to resume the next round of the six-way talks from February 25 after having a series of discussions."

China - North Korea's closest ally - has been leading diplomatic efforts to get talks started again for months.

"It is an important step in peacefully resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis," said foreign ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue.

"Of course we all know the North Korean issue is a complicated issue. It cannot be resolved through one or two meetings," she said.

On Monday, US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said the deadlock over the nuclear crisis was a "dangerous and unstable situation".

North Korea has demanded economic assistance and guarantees from the US that it will not launch an attack, but the US has insisted North Korea commit to dismantling its nuclear weapons programme first.

The BBC's Jonathan Head says that once the next round of talks gets under way, negotiations are likely to focus on a detailed timetable for the concessions made by each side.

Nuclear 'evidence'

Last month, North Korea said it had shown its "nuclear deterrent" to an unofficial delegation from the United States.

The US team confirmed they had seen the secret nuclear complex that Washington believes is being used to develop nuclear weapons.

They were the first group from outside North Korea to visit the Yongbyon facility since the North expelled UN inspectors at the end of 2002.

In 1994, North Korea agreed to halt activities at Yongbyon, 90 kilometres (50 miles) north of the capital, Pyongyang, under a deal with the United States.

But after that agreement broke down in late 2002, North Korea claimed to have finished reprocessing 8,000 spent fuel rods being stored at Yongbyon - enough to help it build up to six more nuclear weapons.

The US has also said Pyongyang admitted to harbouring a separate, enriched uranium programme.

Our correspondent says given the extent of mistrust between the two sides, any negotiations may move very slowly.

The BBC's Peter Greste
"North Korea is offering a nuclear freeze in return for a lifting of sanctions"

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