Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi told U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell Friday that preparations have begun for a new set of six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program. No date for the talks was announced but a Powell spokesman said the secretary is "optimistic" about prospects for further negotiations.

Mr. Wang has been a key figure in Chinese contacts with Pyongyang aimed at arranging a new set of six-party talks following the inconclusive, initial round in Beijing last August. He gave reporters no details of the planning following a 45-minute session with Mr. Powell, though State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the meeting left Mr. Powell optimistic that another round can be held.

"Having discussed this fairly extensively with Vice Foreign Minister Wang, the secretary is encouraged at the prospect of new talks, encouraged at the possibilities of pursuing this route to reach a peaceful resolution of the problems created by North Korea's nuclear weapons programs," he said.

Mr. Boucher cautioned that there had been "no particular breakthrough" on the substance of the talks and that the secretary and Mr. Wang did not get into detail about multi-lateral security assurances the United States has proposed to help persuade North Korea to end its nuclear weapons efforts.

A senior diplomat here said U.S. officials believe the next round can be held before the end of the year.