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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 August 2005, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
US congressmen head for N Korea
James Leach (r) and Tom Lantos en route to Beijing airport, 30 Aug
The US congressmen want to get the talks back on track
Two US congressmen are visiting North Korea to urge Pyongyang to continue talks on its nuclear programme.

Their trip comes a day after North Korea announced that six-party talks on the issue would not restart until mid-September at the earliest.

Before then, the fourth round of talks was expected to resume later this week.

Tom Lantos, a Democrat, and Republican Jim Leach hope to persuade North Korea that it is in its own interest to return to the negotiating table.

"A delay does not serve well the North Korean people," Mr Leach said.

On Monday, North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun said that the talks might resume "just before the end of September".

"If things are going well, mid-September is possible," he added.

He blamed the delay on military drills taking place between the US and South Korea, which have been denounced by North Korea as a dry-run for a possible invasion.

Pyongyang's official media again lashed out over the drills on Tuesday.

"If the US truly wants a negotiated peaceful settlement of the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula, it should stop at once its military blackmail against the DPRK [North Korea]," the official Minju Joson newspaper said.

Tough hurdles

The fourth round of negotiations - involving North and South Korea, the US, China, Russia and Japan - began earlier this month after a break of more than a year.

The general view of the six-party talks meeting at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing. Archive picture
Oct 2002: US says North Korea is enriching uranium in violation of agreements
Dec 2002: North Korea removes UN seals from Yongbyon nuclear reactor, expels inspectors
Feb 2003: IAEA refers North Korea to UN Security Council
Aug 2003: First round of six-nation talks begins in Beijing
Feb 2005: Pyongyang says it has built nuclear weapons for self-defence

But after 13 days, on 7 August, the talks reached a deadlock and the delegates decided to take a recess, promising to reconvene after a short time.

When they do finally come back to the negotiating table, the delegates are likely to face an uphill battle, with many issues yet to resolve.

Part of the reason for the deadlock was North Korea's insistence on maintaining a civilian nuclear programme.

The US has argued that it wants all the North's nuclear facilities dismantled - whether for making weapons or producing energy.

But chief US envoy Christopher Hills indicated last week that it was now prepared to be flexible on that issue, saying that if the North wanted to reclaim access to nuclear energy, that was "not exactly a showstopper issue".

The timing of North Korea's proposed disarmament is another major hurdle which delegates need to resolve.

Pyongyang wants to receive aid and diplomatic incentives before the process is completed, but the US insists all nuclear facilities are dismantled before any kind of concessions are made.

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