China says multi-party talks to end the North Korean nuclear crisis may get under way in the next month.
A statement Tuesday by the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Liu Jianchao, raised new hopes that a second round of talks might get under way soon.
Mr. Liu said that if all sides make active efforts and all their efforts go smoothly, and if the differences between the sides can be narrowed effectively, there is hope the next round of six-party talks can be held before the end of the year.
China, as North Korea's only ally, has taken the lead role in brokering the negotiations. The six nations met in Beijing in August, when the only agreement produced was a promise to meet again. No date was set.
Chinese officials have been anxiously working to schedule a second round of talks, which would again bring together officials from China, Japan, North and South Korea, Russia and the United States.
On Monday, Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, who represented the United States in the first set of negotiations, also said prospects for a new round next month appear good. Mr. Kelly plans to visit China, Japan, and South Korea next week to prepare for the resumption of talks.
Last month, Chinese parliament leader Wu Bangguo traveled to Pyongyang, where North Korean leader Kim Jong Il agreed in principle to resume the negotiations.
The crisis erupted more than a year ago, when the United States said North Korea had admitted to restarting its nuclear program, in violation of non-proliferation agreements.
The United States demands that North Korea dismantle its nuclear program immediately, and in a verifiable manner. North Korea refuses to do so unless the United States signs a treaty promising not to attack.
President Bush last month offered to provide Pyongyang with a written, multi-national security guarantee if it does away with its nuclear program.