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Six-party talks to be held Feb. 25
( 2004-02-03 14:30) (Agencies)

China will host a second round of six-nation talks on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea(DPRK)'s nuclear program on Feb. 25, said the Chinese Foreign Ministry Tuesday.

All sides decided that conditions are right to hold talks now and that all should ``exert sincerity and flexibility,'' said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue.

She said China hoped the standoff would be resolved ``peacefully through dialogue.''

The announcement came after months of negotiations and diplomatic lobbying among the United States, China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas. It is the latest sign of progress in more than a year of efforts to resolve dispute between DPRK and the United States.

``The date was decided on the basis of consultations among the various parties,'' Zhang said. She said details of the agenda were still being discussed.

Zhang's announcement came hours after DPRK's official news agency, KCNA, said the country had agreed to six-nation talks on its nuclear weapons development starting February 25.

A first round of talks between the United States, the two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia was held in August in Beijing, but ended with little progress and no date to resume talks.

"Regarding the next round of six-nation talks, the primary countries involved in the talks ... have held several rounds of consultations and agreed to hold six-nation talks beginning February 25," Yonhap quoted the North radio stations as reporting.

Neither KCNA nor Zhang said how long this month's meeting would last. The previous round, held in Beijing in August, ran three days.

The announcement came ahead of inter-Korean talks in Seoul this week. The talks are aimed at promoting reconciliation between the two sides, but the nuclear crisis has overshadowed similar Cabinet-level talks in the past.

The nuclear dispute flared in October 2002 when US officials accused DPRK of running a uranium program in violation of a 1994 deal.

Washington and Pyongyang had disagreed on ground rules for resuming six-nation talks.

DPRK has insisted it needs a nuclear "deterrent" against a possible US attack. But it says it will suspend its nuclear programs as a first step in talks if Washington lifts sanctions against the North, resumes oil shipments, and removes the North from its list of countries that sponsor terrorism.

The United States says DPRK must first verifiably begin dismantling its nuclear programs before receiving any concessions. U.S. officials believe the North already has one or two nuclear bombs and could make several more within months.

US Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly had met Monday with South Korea's Unification Minister Jeong Se-hyun and Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon before leaving for Tokyo.

"We very much hope that the six-party talks can resume before much longer," said Kelly.

Stepping up the diplomatic push, US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage already was in Japan and expressed optimism Monday that the talks would resume soon.

Meanwhile, the team of Australian diplomats returned from the North capital Pyongyang after talks with its Vice Foreign Minister Kim Yong Il and other officials.

"I had some very useful talks in Pyongyang," said Murray McLean, leader of the five-member Australian delegation, upon arriving at Beijing's Capital Airport. "We presented Australia's strong points of view on the nuclear issue."

He said he met with Kim "for extensive talks" but declined to elaborate, saying he first had to report to his own foreign minister.

Kelly and Ban reaffirmed the US position on dismantling Monday, adding that it must be done in a "complete, verifiable and irreversible" manner, South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Shin Bong-kil as saying.

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