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US, N.Korea mull Feb restart of nuke talks
Updated: 2006-01-22 22:41

The U.S. and North Korea have discussed restarting six-nation talks on the North's nuclear program next month, South Korea's foreign minister was quoted as saying Sunday.

US, N.Korea mull Feb restart of nuke talks
Diplomats attend talks at the Diaoyutai State Guest House in Beijing September 19, 2005. [Reuters]
The two countries' top nuclear envoys _ U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan _ held a surprise meeting Wednesday in Beijing, brokered and attended by China.

It came days after a secretive visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to China.

"It's true that Assistant Secretary of State Hill discussed the possibility of a February resumption when he met the chief North Korean and Chinese delegates in Beijing recently," South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted the South's foreign minister, Ban Ki-moon, as saying.

"But it wasn't that a resumption date was fixed," the agency quoted Ban as saying. Ban earlier returned from Washington where he held talks with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Foreign Ministry officials in Seoul could not be reached for comment Sunday night.

Media have recently reported that China has suggested February 6 as a restarting date for the nuclear talks. The reports couldn't be confirmed.

The six-country nuclear talks _ launched in 2003 _ produced a breakthrough accord in September when the North agreed to give up its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security assurances.

However, the talks have been recessed since November and have stalled over the North's anger at U.S. sanctions imposed over the country's alleged currency counterfeiting and other illicit activities.

North Korea has alleged it won't return to the negotiating table unless the sanctions are lifted. The U.S. has urged the North to return without conditions, saying the sanctions are a law enforcement issue unrelated to the nuclear matter.

"During my visit to the U.S., South Korea and the U.S. agreed that North Korea should return to the six-party talks without any preconditions," Ban said.

He said Seoul would consult other concerned countries about resuming the talks next month.

The nuclear row flared in 2002 over U.S. allegations that North Korea pursued a clandestine nuclear program in violation of international agreements. The North has denied the assertion.

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