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N. Korea Seems Prepared to Return to Nuclear Talks, US Delegation Says

U.S. lawmakers returning from the North Korean capital are optimistic about the resumption of talks to deal with the North's nuclear weapons programs.

Republican Representative Curt Weldon told reporters in Seoul Friday he believes six-party talks about the North Korean nuclear issue can resume in weeks rather than months. Mr. Weldon led five other U.S. lawmakers in a visit to Pyongyang, where they spent the past four days, and met with North Korea's second highest official, Kim Yong Nam. It is the team's second visit to North Korea in 18 months.

North Korea boycotted talks scheduled for last September, citing what it says is a "hostile attitude" by the United States.

But the official North Korean news agency Friday says Pyongyang is willing to recommit to the talks, and treat the United States as a friend if Washington stops making harsh comments about the North's government.

Representative Weldon says officials in North Korea, also known as the DPRK, will be closely watching what the Bush administration says and does before agreeing to a date for talks.

"You've got the State of the Union, the President's inauguration, the confirmation of Condoleezza Rice [as Secretary of State], and all of those provide an opportunity to speak about DPRK," said Mr. Weldon.

China has been the host of three rounds of unsuccessful six-party nuclear talks, involving the two Koreas, Russia, Japan, and the United States.

Washington demands that North Korea live up to previous international agreements and dismantle its nuclear weapons programs. North Korea says it has the right to pursue what it calls a nuclear deterrent against possible U.S. aggression. Pyongyang says it will only give up that deterrent in exchange for security guarantees and economic aid.

Representative Solomon Ortiz, a member of the delegation, says he thinks conditions for talks have improved since the group's trip a year and a half ago. "Now we see a more firm negotiating foundation," he said. "Of course we don't do negotiations, but we have been able to produce an environment for negotiators to come and do their job."

The optimism of the returning U.S. lawmakers echoes that of South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, who said Thursday, he believes six-party talks can resume soon after President Bush is inaugurated for his second term next week.