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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 May, 2005, 10:12 GMT 11:12 UK
N Korea to open talks with South
Satellite image of North Korea's Yongbyon Nuclear Centre - archive picture
North Korea says it has taken 8,000 rods from its Yongbyon reactor
North and South Korea are to hold talks next week after a 10-month suspension.

The North proposed the resumption, it said, "to put relations between the two Koreas on a normal track".

Seoul accepted on Saturday, saying it wanted to discuss North Korea's nuclear programme, as well as relations between the two countries.

The meetings, expected to begin on Monday, come as the world mounts pressure on Pyongyang to rejoin multi-party nuclear talks.

On Friday, Japan proposed resuming the international talks, suspended since September, even if North Korea refuses to attend.

The US and South Korea this week condemned Pyongyang's statement that it had successfully removed fuel rods from a nuclear reactor at Yongbyon. The rods can be treated to produce plutonium for use in nuclear weapons.

There have also been reports that the communist state may be preparing a nuclear test.

New hopes

South Korean Vice Unification Minister Rhee Bong-Jo said there were hopes that this week's bilateral talks would lead to wider discussions.

"We hope that the resumption of inter-Korean dialogue will help facilitate the efforts to reopen the six-party talks," he said.

Pyongyang usually refuses to discuss its nuclear programme in talks with the South, demanding bilateral talks with the US instead.

But the US declines to deal with North Korea directly, insisting negotiations are carried out through the six-party talks.

Pyongyang has asked the South for hundreds of thousands of tonnes of fertilizer in aid, though the South has said official talks must resume first.

The US and Japan have been hinting in recent weeks at more coercive measures against Pyongyang, but China and South Korea oppose sanctions and say more diplomacy is needed.

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