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Page last updated at 08:21 GMT, Tuesday, 6 October 2009 09:21 UK

North Korea 'may return to talks'

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Wen Jiabao spent three days in North Korea

North Korea says it may be willing to return to six-party international talks on its nuclear weapons programme, state media have reported.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is said to have made the announcement to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao before he left Pyongyang after a three-day visit.

But Mr Kim said the return would be dependent on the progress of its planned bilateral talks with the US.

The US says it remains ready to engage with North Korea.

Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao (C) and North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (R) in Pyongyang (4 October 2009)
North Korea and China's neighbours hoped the visit would restart talks

Highlighting the urgency of restarting talks, a South Korean source said the North appeared to be in the final stages of restoring the nuclear programme at Yongbyon that it had shut down before abandoning the six-party process.

"We have obtained indications that point to restoration work being in the final stages," Reuters news agency quoted the source as saying.

"The work to restore nuclear facilities at Yongbyon has been ongoing since early this year."

'Vital consensus'

The six-party talks, which began in 2003, constitute delegates from the two Koreas, China, the US, Russia and Japan.

The forum reached deals in 2005 and 2007, under which the North shut down its plants at Yongbyon and began disabling them in return for aid and security guarantees.

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
April 2009 - Pyongyang launches a rocket carrying what it says is a communications satellite
25 May 2009 - North Korea conducts a second nuclear test
5 August 2009 - Former US President Bill Clinton visits to help secure the release of two detained US journalists
6 October 2009 - North Korea tells China it may be willing to return to six-party talks

But the last talks were in December 2008, and in April this year North Korea said the negotiations were over for good, following widespread condemnation of its long-range missile launch.

A month later, tensions rose still further when the North conducted an underground nuclear test.

In recent weeks, though, the North has shown signs of a more conciliatory approach, and on Monday Mr Kim told Mr Wen that Pyongyang was "willing to attend multilateral talks, including the six-party talks, depending on the progress in its talks with the United States," China's Xinhua news agency reported.

"The hostile relations between the DPRK [North Korea] and the United States should be converted into peaceful ties through the bilateral talks without fail," North Korea's state news agency KCNA quoted Mr Kim as saying.

US state department spokesman Ian Kelly said the aim for Washington was to convince Pyongyang to take the path to complete denuclearisation.

He said this remained the core objective, and that the multi-party process was the best mechanism for achieving that.

"We and our six-party partners want North Korea to engage in a dialogue that leads to complete and verifiable denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula through irreversible steps," Mr Kelly said.

Gymnastics display

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North Korea staged a spectacular event to mark 60 years of ties with China

Mr Wen has just completed a three-day trip to North Korea, to mark the 60th anniversary of diplomatic ties between the countries.

China is North Korea's biggest trading partner and is the country which holds the greatest sway over the secretive Pyongyang regime.

The importance of Mr Wen's visit was underlined when he was met on arrival on Sunday by Mr Kim.

Mr Kim accompanied Mr Wen to a Korean opera, where the two held "friendly talks", Xinhua said.

He also escorted the Chinese party to a special performance of the Arirang mass gymnastics display marking the anniversary.

According to KCNA, performers and the audience "broke into cheers of 'Hurrah!', shaking the stadium, and fireworks were displayed to beautifully decorate the nocturnal sky".



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