China has told the United States there no prospect of hosting another round of six-way talks on the North Korean nuclear program before the end of the year. But U.S. officials say they're hopeful of resuming the nuclear dialogue early in 2004.

There had been press reports that another round would convene in Beijing this week. But the State Department says China has told the United States this is no longer "technically possible" and that with year-end holidays approaching, the talks will not resume until sometime early next year.

The talks are aimed at a verifiable end to North Korea's nuclear weapons program in return for multi-lateral assurances for Pyongyang's security. But they have stalled over the sequencing of steps to that end, with North Korea demanding simultaneous implementation of any such package.

At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said there should be no preconditions for another round. "We call on the North Koreans once again to drop their preconditions for talks, and re-state that we are working and are willing to work with the Chinese to produce a productive round," he said.

Earlier at his news conference, President Bush said he was pleased with U.S.-Chinese cooperation on the issue and the progress made in the six-party dialogue thus far.