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North Korea Conditionally Returns To Nuclear Talks

North Korea has confirmed that it will return to multilateral talks on its nuclear program -- as long as the issue of lifting U.S. financial sanctions will be discussed during the negotiations.

A statement from North Korea's foreign ministry Wednesday said Pyongyang hopes to resolve the sanctions issue with the U.S. "within the framework of the six-party talks."

North Korea has boycotted the nuclear talks for the past year to protest the sanctions, which include a freeze on its accounts in a Macau bank. The restrictions aim to punish the reclusive government of Kim Jong-Il for alleged counterfeiting and money laundering.

Pyongyang's decision to restart the six-nation talks was announced Tuesday following an informal meeting in Beijing between North Korea, the U.S. and China.

President Bush praised the development but said he will work to ensure that U.N. sanctions imposed on North Korea after its October ninth nuclear test continue to be enforced.

In the past, Washington has said its financial sanctions are a separate issue from the nuclear negotiations. But Christopher Hill, the top U.S. envoy on North Korean affairs, said Tuesday that the U.S. has agreed to discuss this point of contention at the upcoming meeting.

Hill also said the talks will focus on the September 2005 agreement in which North Korea pledged to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security guarantees.

The assistant U.S. secretary of state said the talks between North and South Korea, the U.S., China, Russia and Japan will resume later this month, or in December.

South Korea and Russia have praised the diplomatic breakthrough. Japan also has welcomed the move, but says it will not accept North Korea's return to the talks on the premise that it possess nuclear weapons.

Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters