Australia says a solution is emerging that could end the deadlock with North Korea over its nuclear program. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer discussed the issue at a security conference in London.

Australia is one of the few western countries to maintain diplomatic relations with North Korea, and is using its contacts to urge Pyongyang to curb its nuclear ambitions.

Mr. Downer told a conference Monday at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies that he believes a solution to the dispute is possible, following his talks last week in Jakarta with his North Korean counterpart, Paek Nun Sam.

"It's clear now that there is the basis for a solution to the problem, and that involves on the one hand, the freezing and subsequent dismantling in a verifiable way by the North Koreans of their nuclear program, and, in exchange, not just the provision of some kind of regional security guarantee, but also something North Korea desperately wants, and that is access to secure supplies of energy," he said.

Mr. Downer also confirmed Australia will sign an agreement to participate in the U.S. missile defense program when he visits Washington on Wednesday.

He said critics misunderstand the proposed system, which he says could only guard against one or two missiles, not a major attack. "Surely, people are not saying to the United States of America they don't have the right to defend themselves from missiles fired by terrorists or from rogue states," said Mr. Downer. "That they should just, if a missile is coming in from a rogue state towards Los Angeles, they should just lie down and die?"

Mr. Downer also defended Australia's participation in the invasion of Iraq, and he said an early pullout, after the new Iraqi government asked for security assistance, would send all the wrong signals.

"To cut-and-run [leave abruptly] would not just be a snub to the request of the interim government, it would deliver the terrorists a victory, with terrible consequences for us all," he said. "Not only would it turn Iraq into a terrorist haven, those terrorists would be emboldened to strike out more and more."

In a related development, Britain and Australia gave tacit support to Iraq's plan to grant amnesty to insurgents who stop fighting. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw recalled that, as home secretary, he released some jailed Irish republican terrorists in the interest of peace. And Mr. Downer pointed out that, in Cambodia, some Khmer Rouge members also got amnesty.