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North Korea Nuclear Talks Gain New Momentum

The U.S. envoy to six party talks on resolving the North Korean nuclear issue says he and Chinese officials had useful discussions on ways to advance the stalled process.

The six party process that aims to persuade North Korea to abandon nuclear ambitions has been stalled for most of the last year.

In Beijing Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador Stephen Bosworth said he and his Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei had what he described as "a very useful exchange of views on the status of efforts to resume the six party process."

He told reporters he especially wanted to hear about Chinese meetings with officials from North Korea, which he referred to by its official initials, the DPRK.

"The Chinese have had recently several contacts with the DPRK, and it was a very timely opportunity to exchange views and observations," he said.

Chinese President Hu Jintao welcomed senior North Korean leader Kim Yong-il to Beijing Tuesday. North Korea's chief nuclear envoy Kim Kye-gwan also visited China earlier this month.

Bosworth said there was agreement that the six party process - which includes the United States, China, North Korea, South Korea, Japan and Russia - should move forward. But he gave few details and declined to list any sticking points.

"We discussed a number of things that we might do, on each side, to try to regain momentum, and to try to get back to the negotiating table," said Bosworth. "I think it would be premature to discuss specific options, only to say from the US point of view, we remain strongly committed to the use of diplomacy and the pursuit of denuclearization," he added.

The U.S. envoy goes to Seoul Thursday, and then to Tokyo Friday.

In an agreement in September 2005, North Korea promised to abandon its nuclear programs. But Pyongyang later backed away from that agreement, twice testing nuclear devices and refusing to resume the six party negotiations.

A report in the official English language China Daily newspaper Wednesday said North Korea has designated two small islands near the Chinese port city of Dandong, as free trade areas. The report says this status would allow foreigners to come and go, without visas. The report estimates planned investment of up to $500 million.

China is North Korea's biggest benefactor and is seen as having the most influence on Pyongyang.