Six parties are negotiating schedules

South Korean officials are increasingly hopeful that a second round of talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program will occur before the end of the year, RFA's Korean service reports.

"Opinions of related countries appear to be converging in that direction," Foreign Minister Yoon Young-Kwan told reporters at a regular news briefing Wednesday. "At this point, I think there is a considerable possibility of [the talks] taking place within this year."

But he denied a Japanese newspaper report that said dates had already been set, saying there would be more consultations among the countries concerned in the weeks to come.

Diplomats from the United States, North and South Korea, Japan, China, and Russia met in Beijing for China-brokered talks in late August. The discussions ended with no firm dates for a second round of meetings.

Yoon said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, who led the American delegation at the August talks, would travel to the region soon to discuss details for the new round.

He said he would also discuss the topic with his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov during a trip to Europe from Nov. 16-25.

Yoon's comments follow upbeat remarks from China's foreign ministry Tuesday. Foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said China was "positive" the talks could take place by year's end if "everything goes smoothly and differences between the various parties can be narrowed."

The crisis began in October last year when Pyongyang admitted to running a secret uranium-enrichment program in violation of a 1994 accord with the United States.

North Korea now says it wants a bilateral non-aggression pact with the United States before it abandons its nuclear arms program, while the United States wants North Korea to move quickly to scrap the nuclear program first.

However, President George W. Bush indicated last month that the United States might be prepared to offer informal security guarantees that it would not invade North Korea. North Korea said it would consider Bush�s offer.

Washington has ruled out signing a formal non-aggression treaty.#####


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