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Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 October 2006, 16:00 GMT
North Korea talks set to resume
Six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear programme are to resume soon after a diplomatic breakthrough.

Agreement came at an informal meeting in Beijing between North Korea, China and the US.

The talks stalled a year ago after Pyongyang pulled out in protest at US financial sanctions imposed upon it.

North Korea alarmed the world by testing a nuclear weapon earlier this month, prompting the UN to impose financial and arms sanctions.

China's foreign ministry said on its website that envoys from China, the US and North Korea had met on Tuesday and "had a candid and in-depth exchange of views on continuing efforts to advance the process of the six-party talks".

Sept 2005: At first hailed as a breakthrough, North Korea agrees to give up nuclear activities
Next day, N Korea says it will not scrap its activities unless it gets a civilian nuclear reactor
US imposes financial sanctions on N Korea businesses
July 2006: N Korea test-fires seven missiles
UN Security Council votes to impose sanctions over the tests
Oct 2006: N Korea claims to have carried out nuclear test

All three agreed the talks "be held soon at a time convenient to the six parties".

The US negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, later said the talks could resume as early as next month.

He added that North Korea had set no conditions for its return to the talks.

President George W Bush hailed the agreement.

"I am pleased and I want to thank the Chinese," he told reporters at the White House.

He added that the agreement would not halt US efforts to enforce a UN Security Council resolution passed in response to the North's atomic test.

The announcement was welcomed by both South Korea and Russia, which along with the US, China and Japan make up the partners in the talks with North Korea.

But Japan has reportedly said it cannot accept North Korea's return to the talks unless the regime first renounces its nuclear weapons.

Foreign Minister Taro Aso was quoted as saying that while Japan welcomed the prospect of a new round of talks, it "does not intend to accept North Korea's return to the talks on the premise that it possess nuclear weapons".

Public broadcaster NHK said he insisted that a resumption of talks "is conditional on North Korea not possessing nuclear weapons".

Ongoing crisis

The talks began in 2003 to find a way to resolve the crisis over Pyongyang's nuclear programme.

They appeared to make an historic breakthrough in September 2005 when North Korea announced it would give up its nuclear activities and rejoin the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Believed to have 'handful' of nuclear weapons
But not thought to have any small enough to put in a missile
Could try dropping from plane, though world watching closely

But within months optimism crumbled as North Korea withdrew from the talks in protest at US financial sanctions, under which about $24m (14m) of funds have been frozen.

North Korea's decision to test seven missiles in July and then carry out a nuclear weapon test on 9 October drew international condemnation.

China - Pyongyang's key ally - joined other UN Security Council members in agreeing to sanctions targeting North Korea's missile and weapons programmes as well as luxury goods and a travel ban.

But Beijing has also been carrying out frantic behind-the-scenes negotiations to try to restart the talks, which appear now to have borne fruit, the BBC's Rupert Wingfield-Hayes in the Chinese capital says.

Reactions to the breakthrough

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