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UN Official Says North Korea Eager to Resume Six-Nation Nuclear Talks

The president of the U.N. General Assembly has told South Korea's president in Seoul that North Korea urgently wants to resume talks on dismantling its nuclear weapons program. But Jean Ping, just returning from Pyongyang, says the North still has conditions. .

U.N. General Assembly President Jean Ping met with South Korean officials in Seoul - including President Roh Moo-hyun.

Mr. Ping, who is also Gabon's foreign minister, has returned from North Korea, where he says he was told Pyongyang wants to move ahead with six-nation talks on nuclear dismantling.

Mr. Ping is reportedly describing the North's request as 'urgent,' but that certain conditions are still attached. It is not clear what is new in Mr. Ping's description of North Korea's position.

Since September, the communist nation has refused to attend a fourth round of nuclear weapons talks hosted by China and attended by South Korea, Japan, Russia and the United States. Pyongyang has cited a list of reasons: hostile and uncompromising U.S. policy, demands for aid, and revelations that South Korea experimented with nuclear materials almost 20 years ago.

Still, South Korea's Foreign Ministry is encouraged. Cho Tae-yong, the director-general of the Foreign Ministry's task force on the North Korean nuclear crisis.

"I don't want to leave the impression that the comment made by Mr. Ping is in any way negative," he said. "We believe that should be interpreted as positive. But at the same time I would like to emphasize that we really have to schedule the talks so that we can resume the dialogue process sooner rather than later."

The U.S. State Department says it is prepared to resume the talks without preconditions and hopes North Korea will do the same.

Thursday Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said Beijing had no firm time frame for new talks.

She says the nuclear issue is very complicated and as to the specifics for the next round of six-way talks - that is still under consultation.

Tensions have been high on the Korean Peninsula for more than two years. In October 2002, Washington said Pyongyang had admitted having a secret and illegal uranium enrichment program to produce nuclear weapons.

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, in a report to the American Congress this week, said there are indications North Korea is preparing to test-fire a ballistic missile with a nuclear weapon sized payload that could reach across the Pacific Ocean.