North Korea says it is ready to resume the fourth round of multinational talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons programs. The six parties to the negotiations may be back at the table as soon as next week.
South Korean Presidential Spokeswoman Sun Mira says North Korea made its proposal to resume nuclear talks via the Chinese, who are hosting the nuclear disarmament talks.
Ms. Sun says Pyongyang proposed resuming nuclear talks next week. She says no specific date will be fixed until all six parties to the talks have been consulted.
The South Korean news agency Yonhap said Pyongyang had proposed a starting date of Tuesday, September 13. South Korean, Japanese and Chinese officials have all said they expect the talks to resume some time next week.
The talks among China, North and South Korea, the United States, Japan and Russia were originally due to start again in late August after a three-week recess, but Pyongyang delayed its return in protest over the annual joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises.
The fourth round began in late July, and lasted 13 days, the longest period since the talks started in 2003. The discussions reached an impasse, however, when North Korea demanded the right to a peaceful nuclear energy program.
Pyongyang says it already has nuclear weapons and is producing more, despite previous agreements not to do so. Washington now wants the North to abandon all nuclear programs, fearing Pyongyang might use a peaceful program as a guise to make additional nuclear weapons.
However, China and South Korea have endorsed the North's right to a peaceful program, provided it is carried out under the guidelines and supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA. South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon spelled this out in comments made last week.
"Dismantle all nuclear weapons and programs; returns to NPT; abides by full-scope IAEA Safeguards Agreement, so that transparency and trust may be restored.," said Ban Ki-Moon.
Soon after the United States confronted Pyongyang in 2002 with evidence of a secret North Korean uranium-based weapons program, the North expelled the IAEA inspectors in the country. It then became the first signer of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, or NPT, to withdraw from the agreement.
The United States says the offer currently on the table for North Korea includes "very generous" energy and economic aid, and steps towards expanded diplomatic relations with the outside world - if it gives up its nuclear ambitions.
However, after returning last week from consultations in the United States with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, South Korea's Mr. Ban said the two agreed not to let North Korea's demand for civilian nuclear programs "overshadow" the six-party process.