A senior Chinese official says North Korea could be entitled to possess a non-military nuclear program if it follows international guidelines and accepts supervision.
The Chinese official's remarks came as the six nations involved in the North Korea nuclear disarmament negotiations prepared to resume talks later this month.
The talks broke off in early August amid North Korea's insistence on retaining the right to a peaceful nuclear program, despite opposition by the United States and others who fear Pyongyang might use such a program to make atomic weapons.
South Korea, also a party to the talks, has defended the North's right to peaceful nuclear energy.
At a briefing Thursday, Zhang Yan, director of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's arms control department, also said North Korea could have a peaceful nuclear program, if it agrees to follow the rules of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
He was asked whether North Korea should be allowed to have a light water reactor for producing electricity, a type of reactor that can also be used to produce nuclear weapons fuel. "In this sense, if a country joins the treaty and accepts the supervision of safety guarantee by the International Atomic Energy Agency, it has the right to use nuclear power peacefully," he said.
There was no immediate reaction from North Korea.
China, as the host of the negotiations, has been working to resolve the impasse, and analysts say Thursday's remarks could reassure North Korea that its demands may eventually be met - under certain circumstances.
The United States has urged North Korea to give up all its nuclear programs, saying that failure to do so will only prolong its international isolation.
The nuclear crisis flared after North Korea expelled international atomic inspectors and admitted it had restarted its nuclear weapons programs in violation of international agreements.
Three earlier rounds of negotiations since 2003 involving China, Japan, North and South Korea, Russia and the United States have failed to produce a disarmament agreement.