The United States has a new proposal to end the North Korean nuclear crisis, as fresh talks opened in Beijing.
Washington wants the North's nuclear facilities dismantled
The US, China, Japan, Russia and both Koreas have already held two rounds of talks with little success.
But this time, the US is reportedly ready to offer Pyongyang energy aid if it freezes its nuclear facilities as a first step towards full dismantlement.
"We are prepared for serious discussion and we have a proposal to offer," US negotiator James Kelly said.
Mr Kelly did not expand on the proposal in his opening comments.
But US officials earlier told The New York Times that the US' allies in the region would send tens of thousands of tonnes of heavy fuel oil to the energy-starved state in return for a commitment from Mr Kim to dismantle his plutonium and uranium weapons programmes.
BREAKING THE DEADLOCK?
US reportedly ready to agree to fuel aid and 'provisional guarantee' not to attack
Talks on lifting US sanctions also on offer
In return, North must seal nuclear facilities within 3 months
Fuel aid and talks will continue if North then dismantles facilities
Source: The New York Times
The North would then have three months to seal its nuclear facilities, and the continuation of the oil aid would depend on the dismantlement of the nuclear infrastructure, as verified by international inspectors, the New York Times report said.
North Korea appeared poised to consider a US offer.
"With regard to the freeze for corresponding measures, my delegation expects to hear new ideas from the US side," chief delegate Kim Kye-gwan said in opening remarks at the talks, which are being held at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing.
"Our nuclear policy is the offspring of the US hostile policy," he said. "But we don't expect to keep our nuclear weapons forever, nor do we intend to attack the US.
"Our goal is the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula - to make the peninsula free of nuclear weapons," he said.
In addition to energy aid, the US would also offer a "provisional guarantee" not to attack the North, the New York Times said.
The offer appears to go some way to meeting previous demands made by the North. The US Government had insisted in the past on the North completing a full dismantlement of its nuclear programme before the promise of any such rewards.
However, it is likely that the US deal is predicated on Pyongyang admitting to a secret enriched uranium programme - separate to the plutonium programme it has already acknowledged - which Washington says the North admitted to in 2002 but which Pyongyang has subsequently denied.
Analysts say it is also highly possible that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il will want to stall on any deal until after the US elections in November, in the hope that President Bush will lose office.
It is not clear how far the US offer resembles, or differs from, a three-stage plan offering the North aid and a possible security pledge proposed by South Korea which delegates on Tuesday said they would be discussing.
Such a proposal was on the table at the last round of talks in February.
Tensions have been escalating on the Korean peninsula since October 2002, when the US said Pyongyang had admitted to a secret, enriched uranium programme.
Since then, North Korea has restarted a mothballed nuclear power station, thrown out inspectors from the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency and pulled out of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.