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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 January, 2005, 02:09 GMT
US cool on North Korea overtures
Yongbyon nuclear plant
The US and allies wants the North's nuclear programme dismantled
US officials have given a cautious welcome to indications by North Korea that it may rejoin six-nation talks on its nuclear weapons programme.

North Korea's official news agency on Friday backed reports by US Congressmen suggesting that talks could resume "within weeks".

"We'll see by their actions how serious they are," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said in response to reports.

North Korea has not attended the talks since June last year.

"We look forward to the next round of talks. We hope that those can occur soon and that we can talk about how to move forward," Mr McClellan added.

"We have not set any preconditions for the next round of talks."

Hopes for progress

North Korea's KCNA news agency said on Friday it would work to resolve outstanding issues with Washington.

Analysts had suggested that North Korea's reclusive leaders had stalled on talks in the hope that a Democratic president would be elected in the US.

But KCNA reported that North Korea would treat the US as a friend "unless the latter slanders the former's system and interferes in its internal affairs".

Communist leaders in North Korea had studied the direction of US foreign policy since George W Bush's re-election last November and had decided to re-enter negotiations, the agency said.

North Korea
South Korea
US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said he hoped talks could begin "perhaps soon".

But he stressed that any discussions must address the "full range" of North Korea's nuclear programs, including uranium enrichment programs.

"The goal is to make real progress, and so we would hope that the North Koreans would deal seriously with these issues and come prepared to discuss how to make real progress in resolving these difficulties," he said.

The North Korean statement came following a four-day visit to Pyongyang by US Congressmen, led by Curt Weldon.

Mr Weldon called his delegation's visit to North Korea an overwhelming success.

Nuclear stockpile

The Congressman held lengthy meetings with top officials, including the number two in the hierarchy, Kim Yong-nam, and the North's top negotiator, Kim Kye-gwan.

Mr Weldon said Kim Kye-gwan was now much more positive.

North Korean nuclear negotiator Kim Kye Gwan
Top negotiator Kim Kye Gwan is reportedly "positive" about talks
"He expressed optimism that as long as the US did not appear or act in a belligerent manner, they would in fact be prepared to move through serious negotiations."

The "ultimate objective" is the "total and complete elimination of the nuclear capability of [North Korea]," Mr Weldon said.

Mr Weldon said the North Koreans were especially alert to the makeup of the new foreign policy team in the Bush administration and to any hostile comments from Washington.

The US last year offered economic help and security guarantees as an incentive to the North to give up its nuclear programme.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has recently warned North Korea is amassing a stockpile of fissile material for nuclear weapons.

Analysts say diplomacy has achieved little in the 27 months since the Bush administration first challenged North Korea over its nuclear programme.

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