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N. Korea Agrees to Second Round of Nuclear Weapons Talks - 2004-02-03

North Korea has said it will participate in a second round of talks on its nuclear weapons programs later this month. The news came as delegations from North and South Korea opened a meeting in Seoul to discuss several issues, including the nuclear dispute.

North Korean state radio said Tuesday that Pyongyang will come back to the negotiating table to try to resolve the 17-month-old crisis over its nuclear weapons programs. The broadcast said the meeting of six nations will open February 25 in Beijing. Chinese officials have confirmed that.

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue expressed cautious optimism about the talks. Ms. Zhang says all sides have decided that conditions are right to hold talks now and she believes they will negotiate in the spirit of respect and equality. She adds that all parties should show sincerity and flexibility so the talks make substantial progress.

It is unclear how long the meeting will last. The first round of talks, which took place in August and ended inconclusively, went on for three days. Since that meeting, there has been intense diplomatic activity to bring the United States, China, Japan, Russia and North and South Korea back to the table.

For months, Washington and Pyongyang remained at odds over the direction of the discussions. North Korea wants the United States to guarantee its security, send it oil and remove it from a list of states that sponsor terrorism. In exchange, Pyongyang promises to freeze its nuclear program.

The United States has demanded that the reclusive communist state verifiably dismantle its nuclear programs before other issues are discussed.

South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Soo-hyuck said he expects Pyongyang will soon elaborate on its position and offer to end its nuclear programs. He also noted that Seoul has not offered any concessions in exchange for a nuclear freeze by the North.

The dispute erupted 17 months ago when Washington said Pyongyang admitted it was defying international accords by running a program to enrich uranium for nuclear bombs. North Korea denies making such an admission, although it says it is reprocessing plutonium, which also can be made into nuclear bombs.

Tuesday's breakthrough announcement comes as officials from North and South Korea opened a four-day meeting in Seoul. They will discuss the nuclear crisis as well as a railway to connect the divided Korean Peninsula and plans for a reunion of family members divided by the border that separates the two nations.

North and South Korea remain technically at war because the Korean War ended in 1953 with an armistice and no peace treaty.