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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 June, 2004, 09:19 GMT 10:19 UK
Japan joins US offer to N Korea
North Korean spent nuclear fuel rods in Yongbyon (archive picture)
Washington wants the North's nuclear facilities dismantled
Japan has joined the United States in offering North Korea desperately needed aid supplies in return for freezing its nuclear weapons programme.

The offer was made on the second day of ongoing six-nation talks in Beijing.

The White House said once Pyongyang agreed to take steps to achieve the verifiable dismantling of its nuclear programme, oil and food would be sent.

The BBC correspondent in Beijing says the US offer has raised hopes that this round of talks could make progress.

Uranium issue

But a spokesman for the Japanese government, Hiroyuki Hosada, said the US and North Korea are still far apart over how to solve the nuclear crisis and more talks are needed.

Mr Hosada said: "It seems to me that regarding issues related to uranium enrichment, the thinking of the two sides does not agree at all."

However the plan is being seen as more flexible than a previous US demand for North Korea to destroy its weapons before talks on aid could take place.

North Korea has not yet formally responded to the proposal.

On Wednesday, the North Korean delegate, Kim Kye-gwan, said his country would give up its weapons in a "transparent way" if the US dropped its "hostile policy".

Libya comparison

The talks in Beijing to end the nuclear stand-off are taking place between the US, Russia, China, the two Koreas and Japan. Two previous rounds of talks ended without a breakthrough.

"What we will be presenting is a practical series of steps to achieve the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear program," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters in Washington.

As well as assistance, there would be "some assurances on the security side," he added.

Mr McClellan said the new initiative was based on the stick and carrot model which persuaded Libya to give up its weapons of mass destruction programme in return for a gradual return to the international stage.

US election impact

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 George W 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 said they would be discussing.

Such a proposal was on the table at the last round of talks in February.

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.

The BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes
"The mood here has changed"

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