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Last Updated: Monday, 23 February, 2004, 11:03 GMT
N Korean 'offer' on nuclear talks
South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Soo-hyuck, right, and Japanese Foreign Ministry Director General Mitoji Yabunaka
Delegates have met in Seoul ahead of the Beijing talks on Wednesday
North Korea has reportedly offered to scrap its nuclear weapons programme if it gets its way at six-nation talks due to open in Beijing on Wednesday.

The offer was reported by China, which is keen for the talks it has brokered to succeed, after months of stalemate.

It was not clear if the North's offer went beyond earlier offers to freeze its programme if given concessions.

Hopes for the talks are muted, with several parties calling for the US and North Korea to show more flexibility.

The US is seeking the total dismantlement of North Korea's alleged plutonium and uranium programmes, in return for certain concessions.

But North Korea has always denied, in public at least, having a uranium project.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Monday told Japanese Senior Vice-Foreign Minister Ichiro Aisawa that North Korea has told China it would ''freeze all of its nuclear activities as a step'' toward total abolition, Kyodo news agency reported.

There have to be some pretty strong bargaining powers at work or it will lead to nothing
Margaret, USA

It was not clear whether Pyongyang was referring to just the plutonium programme, or also to the alleged uranium programme.

Ahead of the talks, South Korea has proposed that the North freeze its nuclear programme as part of a three-step procedure to scrapping it altogether, according to South Korea's delegate, Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Soo-hyuck.

The steps are reported to be:

  • Phase 1: North Korea states its readiness to dismantle its nuclear programmes, in return for which, the US states its readiness to provide security guarantees for North Korea

  • Phase 2: North Korea freezes its nuclear programmes. This, once verified, earns North Korea energy aid and other rewards

  • Phase 3: The verified dismantling of all North Korea's nuclear facilities and the resolution of all related issues

But the BBC's correspondent in Seoul, Charles Scanlon, says that Washington appears to have a different approach to the crisis.

He says the US is reluctant to spell out possible rewards for North Korea. There is also nervousness in Seoul about the Bush administration's apparent plan to confront the North over the alleged uranium programme.

Some diplomats fear a breakdown in dialogue if the North continues to deny the existence of this second programme.

North Korea has agreed before to halt activities at its plutonium generator - at Yongbyon, 90 kilometres (50 miles) north of the capital, Pyongyang.

But the 1994 deal with the United States broke down in late 2002, and since then North Korea has claimed to have finished reprocessing 8,000 spent fuel rods stored at Yongbyon - enough to help it build up to six more nuclear weapons.

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