South Korea is now one step away from sending an additional 3,000 troops to Iraq.

President Roh Moo-hyun's cabinet on Tuesday approved the military's detailed plans for the dispatch of 3,000 troops to Iraq in April.

The contingent would include a mix of support and combat-ready troops. The plan now awaits approval by parliament, and could be submitted to legislators as early as Wednesday.

The plan, which has many critics in South Korea, would make the country the third largest contributor to coalition forces in Iraq after the United States and Britain.

Earlier this week, President Roh discussed the plan by telephone with President Bush, who has praised South Korea for its contribution. A South Korean delegation recently returned from Washington, after discussing the matter with U.S. officials.

Seoul had already sent 460 non-combat troops to Iraq, including medics and engineers who were deployed in the southern city of Nasiriyah. Two were killed and another two injured in an ambush in late November, an event that turned many South Koreans against the idea of sending more troops.

Seoul insists that its military will generally play a non-combat role, but the issue continues to generate controversy.

President Roh says it is important to support the United States, with which South Korea has a 50-year-old security alliance. The United States stations 37,000 troops in the country under a mutual defense agreement to deter a North Korean attack.

President Roh has said that supporting the United States in Iraq will help win Washington's support for a peaceful resolution of the dispute over North Korea's nuclear weapons development.

The United States, South Korea and other countries are urging North Korea to curb its nuclear ambitions, and hope to hold a second round of multiparty talks on the issue early next year. A first round was held in Beijing in August, but ended without resolution.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman on Tuesday said there was no chance of the talks resuming this month, as originally hoped.