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Page last updated at 03:24 GMT, Saturday, 12 September 2009 04:24 UK

US ready for N Korea direct talks

North Korean soldiers at a mass rally to celebrate the country"s first nuclear test in 2006
North Korea insists it has a right to nuclear weapons

The US says it would hold direct talks with North Korea to persuade it to return to stalled multilateral talks on ending its nuclear programme.

A spokesman for the US state department said that there had been no decision on when such talks might take place.

Philip Crowley insisted the move was not a policy shift and talks would take place within "the six-party process".

North Korea pulled out of multilateral talks in April after international criticism following a rocket launch.

"It's a bi-lateral discussion that (is) hopefully...within the six-party context, and it's designed to convince North Korea to come back to the six-party process and to take affirmative steps towards de-nuclearisation," Mr Crowley said from Washington.

US spokesman denied it was a policy shift

He denied that accepting North Korea's offer of bi-lateral talks was a policy shift but called it a "short-term" measure to try and bring the reclusive state back to talks.

The BBC's John Sudworth, in the South Korean capital, Seoul, says the decision does appear to be a tactical shift - suggesting that the US is now prepared to meet directly with the North before getting the commitment it had sought to the broader multilateral process.

Earlier this week, the US special envoy on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, met in Asia with officials from Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo to discuss the talks.

Military threat

A senior state department official, speaking anonymously, told reporters that it would probably be Mr Bosworth who would meet with the North Koreans, according to Agence France Presse.

NUCLEAR CRISIS
Oct 2006 - North Korea conducts an underground nuclear test
Feb 2007 - North Korea agrees to close its main nuclear reactor in exchange for fuel aid
June 2007 - North Korea shuts its main Yongbyon reactor
June 2008 - North Korea makes its long-awaited declaration of nuclear assets
Oct 2008 - The US removes North Korea from its list of countries which sponsor terrorism
Dec 2008 - Pyongyang slows work to dismantle its nuclear programme after a US decision to suspend energy aid
Jan 2009 - The North says it is scrapping all military and political deals with the South, accusing it of "hostile intent"
April 2009 - Pyongyang launches a rocket carrying what it says is a communications satellite
25 May 2009 - North Korea conducts a second nuclear test

He said it was unlikely the meeting would take place before the United Nations General Assembly meeting due to be held towards the end of the month in New York.

According to Reuters, the US has drafted a UN Security Council resolution calling on all countries with atomic weapons to get rid of them.

Diplomats suggest that the text could also refer to North Korea, which withdrew from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003, subsequently testing two nuclear devices.

The text, Washington hopes, could be carried during a special council session led by US President Barack Obama. In September, the US is holding the rotating presidency of the Security Council.

In September 2005, North Korea agreed to abandon its nuclear programmes in exchange for aid in a deal decided between the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the US, beginning a process known as the six-party talks.

But since then, the talks have stalled over the failure of Pyongyang to verify the shutdown of the Yongbyon nuclear plant.

In May this year, the North said it had staged a second "successful" underground nuclear test, saying it was more powerful than a test carried out in October 2006.

The North says that it remains under military threat from its historic rival, South Korea, and South Korea's allies, primarily the US.



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