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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 November 2006, 02:03 GMT
Bush hails China on N Korea deal
North Korea will return to talks with no preconditions, the US says
US President George W Bush has thanked China for its role in persuading North Korea to return to six-party talks about its nuclear weapons programme.

Mr Bush said that Washington would insist that Pyongyang abandon the programme when the talks start.

North Korea said it decided to return to the talks to try to resolve the issue of US financial sanctions.

Negotiations stalled a year ago after North Korea pulled out in protest at the US move.

In October, North Korea tested a nuclear weapon prompting the UN to impose financial and arms sanctions.

'No conditions'

Agreement on restarting the six-party talks came after the chief US envoy to the talks, Christopher Hill, met North Korean officials in Beijing for their first discussions since the North's weapon test.

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

Mr Hill 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.

The other participants to the talks - South Korea, Russia and Japan - have welcomed the announcement.

Mr Bush hailed the agreement.

"I'm pleased and I want to thank the Chinese for encouraging the meeting that got the agreement to get the six-party talks re-started," 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.

"We'll be sending teams to the region to work with our partners to make sure that the current United Nations Security Council resolution is enforced, but also to make sure that the talks are effective, that we achieve the results we want - which is a North Korea that abandons her nuclear weapons programmes and her nuclear weapons in a verifiable fashion in return for a better way forward for her people."

North Korea's foreign ministry later said Pyongyang decided to return to the talks "on the premise that the issue of lifting financial sanctions will be discussed and settled between the DPRK (North Korea) and the US within the framework of the six-party talks".

The statement was carried out by North Korea's official KCNA news agency.

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 had 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.

Reaction to the breakthrough

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