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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 February, 2005, 03:33 GMT
N Korea hints at return to talks
Poster of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, on his birthday
Kim rarely makes public statements on the nuclear standoff
North Korea may reconsider its withdrawal from six-nation talks on its nuclear ambitions, the official KCNA news agency has said.

It quoted leader Kim Jong-il as saying North Korea would negotiate "anytime if there are mature conditions".

His comments were made to a Chinese envoy sent to persuade Pyongyang to rejoin the stalled talks process.

North Korea abruptly withdrew from the talks earlier this month, claiming it possessed nuclear weapons.

Mr Kim's latest comments appear to re-iterate long-standing North Korean demands for aid and concessions from the United States, says the BBC's Seoul correspondent, Charles Scanlon.

Whether this breaks the impasse over the talks will now depend on the US, our correspondent says.

We will go to the negotiating table anytime if there are mature conditions for the six-party talks
Kim Jong-il

But the extremely rare statement from North Korea's supreme leader does show Mr Kim is personally involved in the issue.

The remarks will also be seen as a concession to China, its closest ally, since Beijing has been orchestrating the talks process and does not want nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula.

The Chinese envoy, Wang Jiarui, carried a message from China's President Hu Jintao, which said it was in China and North Korea's "fundamental interests" to continue working towards peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, KCNA reported.

Japan and the US had pressed China to get Pyongyang back to the negotiating table, warning the North Korean regime that its withdrawal would deepen its "international isolation".

Six-nation stalemate

In his first public statement since the withdrawal, the North Korean leader reportedly placed the onus on the US to create "mature conditions" to enable his country to rejoin the negotiations process.

He said North Korea "never opposed the six-party talks but made every possible effort for their success".

"We will go to the negotiating table anytime if there are mature conditions for the six-party talks," he said.

However, he did not spell out what these conditions may be.

Since late 2002, three rounds of negotiations between the six nations - the US, Russia, the two Koreas, Japan and China - have sought to ease nuclear tensions on the Korean peninsula, with little success.

While the US has demanded North Korea dismantles its nuclear weapons as part of any peace deal, Pyongyang has said it needs its arsenal to defend itself against a possible US attack.

How N Korea might soften its stance

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