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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 February 2007, 16:28 GMT
'Progress made' in N Korea talks
Japanese chief negotiator Kenichiro Sasae, Beijing 8/2/07
Expectations had been building ahead of the talks
The first day of a new round of talks on North Korea's nuclear programme has ended with a hint of progress.

Diplomats at six-party talks in Beijing said North Korea had agreed to take initial steps towards disarmament.

South Korea's envoy to the talks said all parties - the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the US - agreed on the need for progress and consensus.

The US wants North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programme, but Pyongyang wants sanctions lifted first.

Trade and financial sanctions against North Korea were tightened after it carried out a nuclear test in October.

Desire for progress

North Korea's envoy in Beijing, Kim Kye-gwan, said on arrival that Pyongyang was prepared to discuss "first-stage measures".

Delegates want to revive a September 2005 agreement under which the North would agree to end its nuclear programme in return for aid and security guarantees.

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The US envoy, Christopher Hill, described the opening day of talks as a "good day", and said hopes were high for a joint statement.

And Chun Yung-woo, South Korea's representative, said the key phase of the talks would come on Friday.

"Tonight or tomorrow, China is expected to make a draft agreement based on today's keynote speeches and discussions at the plenary session, and pass it on to others," the AFP news agency quoted him as saying.

Speaking to a Senate committee in Washington, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice welcomed the new round of talks.

"I think we are cautiously optimistic that there may be some movement forward," she said.

"However, I don't count my chickens before they hatch."

In Beijing the North Korean envoy, Mr Kim, said there remained important differences with the US.

"The judgement [for the talks] should be based on whether the United States will come forward and abandon its hostile policy against us and co-exist peacefully," he said.

Food shortage

Part of the reason for analysts' optimism is the reported progress at recent talks between the US and North Korea in Berlin.

Reports that the North is enduring a winter food crisis have emerged in recent weeks, a fact which is thought to have changed the dynamics in the run-up to the talks.

Washington has reportedly shown a willingness to sit down and discuss North Korea's demands to lift financial sanctions.

Meanwhile, North Korea reportedly recently told visiting US officials it would take the first steps to disband its nuclear programme in return for 500,000 tonnes of fuel oil and other benefits.

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