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China Pressing Forward on N. Korea Nuclear Talks - 2003-12-04

China says it is pressing ahead with plans to hold talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program in the near future, countering earlier published reports of a snag in preparations. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Liu Jianchao said preparations for another round of multilateral talks on North Korea's nuclear ambitions are progressing.

"We have reached consensus on some issues and are working to create conditions for a second round of negotiations," he said.

Mr. Liu says China is consulting with diplomats of the countries involved to smooth out political issues, which he did not detail.

The first round of six-way negotiations ended inconclusively in Beijing last August. Now China hopes to bring together Japan, North and South Korea, Russia, and the United States for a second round of talks by the end of the year.

Western news reports on Tuesday, however, quoted unidentified U.S. officials as saying preparations had hit a snag and the talks would likely not be held until January or February. According to the reports, the snag centers on North Korea's demand for a non-aggression treaty from the United States before it dismantles its nuclear program.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell on Wednesday also denied reports that a deadlock was holding up preparations and said he was optimistic that the talks would take place in the near future.

Diplomats from South Korea, Japan and the United States are meeting in Washington to get ready for those negotiations. Meanwhile, South Korea's Unification Minister Thursday urged both the United States and North Korea to soften their negotiating positions.

The North Korean nuclear crisis erupted more than a year ago, when U.S. officials said that North Korea had admitted to having restarted its nuclear weapons program in violation of international agreements.