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China, US closer to new N. Korea talks
( 2003-11-09 09:15) (Agencies)

The United States and China signaled Friday that agreement may be reached soon on convening a new round of six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell (R) shakes hands with China's Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo (L) at the State Department in Washington, DC, earlier this year. Dai arrived Sunday in Seoul as South Korea and China seek to agree on dates for the next round of six-party nuclear talks on the North Korean nuclear crisis.[AFP/file]

The optimism about convening a new round 10 weeks after the initial discussions emerged after a meeting between Secretary of State Colin Powell and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

"Preparations for a new round of six-party talks at Beijing have started," Wang told reporters after the hour-long meeting, speaking through a translator.

Later, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Powell "is encouraged at the prospect of new talks, encouraged at the possibilities of pursuing this route to reach a peaceful resolution of the problems created by North Korea's nuclear weapons programs."

Wang went to the U.S. capital after discussing future steps with North Korean officials in Pyongyang. During his visit, he met with Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly and with Pentagon officials, besides Powell.

In late August, China convened a groundbreaking meeting involving the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia. The talks ended inconclusively.

Boucher said that at the next round, the United States will seek progress toward its goal of "ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programs, which have caused so much difficulty and consternation."

Last month, at the summit meeting of Asia-Pacific leaders in Bangkok, U.S. President Bush said he was prepared to offer North Korea written security assurances in exchange for the dismantling of the country's nuclear weapons.

After that statement, North Korea began showing more interest than it had before in returning to the bargaining table.

U.S. officials have been debating the timing of the security assurances, with some arguing that none should be offered until after North Korea dismantles its nuclear programs and others advocating an offer earlier in the process.

Boucher acknowledged that issue remains undecided. He said the administration recognizes that the assurance would be given "in the context of reaching the goal of ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.

"How that process would be coordinated would be something that would have to be worked out," he said.

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