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Reports: N. Korea Nuclear Talks to Resume Next Week

News reports indicate that planning is under way to re-start the long-stalled North Korean nuclear talks on December 16. There has been no official confirmation from any of the six governments involved in the talks. But the flurry of news stories comes amid indications that North Korea is finally showing the kind of flexibility the United States and others have said is necessary if the talks are to succeed. VOA's Steve Herman reports from Tokyo.

Japanese officials on Saturday refused to confirm a specific date for resumption of the six-party talks in Beijing. But they are not denying widespread reports that China has begun preparations to restart the talks on December 16.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso met in the Philippines Saturday with his Chinese counterpart, Li Zhaoxing. Afterwards Aso told reporters there is apparent progress on fixing the date for the next round of talks, after a hiatus of more than a year.

But Aso, in a telling comment, also said the substance of the talks is more important than when they are held.

Aso says North Korea's acceptance of allowing inspectors of the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to return to North Korea is one of the things that "might set the direction for the next round of talks."

A Japanese Foreign Ministry source tells VOA that Aso's comment about inspectors of the U.N. agency, IAEA, was more than wishful thinking.

The United States, Japan, South Korea, China and Russia have offered North Korea economic, diplomatic and security concessions in return for the North giving up its nuclear weapons programs in a verifiable manner.

That would include allowing back inspectors of the IAEA, which Pyongyang ejected from the country in 2003, shortly after the current controversy of the North's nuclear program erupted.

Japan, according to the foreign ministry source, has been told that North Korea says it is prepared to readmit the inspectors, in conjunction with resumption of the six-party talks.

If the Japanese information is accurate, this would be the first sign of flexibility on North Korea's part since it started boycotting the talks more than a year ago.

The boycott came after Washington imposed sanctions on a bank in Macau, which Washington says was helping North Korea with counterfeiting and money-laundering.

Shortly before that, at the last round of six-party talks in September of 2005, Pyongyang had agreed in principle to abandon its nuclear programs, in return for the promised concessions.

The Chinese foreign minister told reporters Saturday that Beijing is working to get Pyongyang back to the table, and to see full implementation of that September agreement.