The three day negotiations will take place in Beijing, starting 27 August. North and South  Korea, the US, Russia, Japan and China will all send delegations, China's Foreign Ministry said in statement.

“The convocation of the meeting represents an important step towards a peaceful solution to the Korean nuclear issue,” the Ministry said, AFP reported.

“As the host, China stands ready to make all the preparations and work with the other parties to promote the process of dialogue so as to ensure peace and stability of the Korean peninsula.”

The international crisis erupted last October after US officials said Pyongyang admitted funding a uranium enrichment programme aimed at developing nuclear weapons. Exploratory tri-partite talks were held in Beijing in April, though little progress was made.

Weapons inspectors

North Korea has expelled International Agency Energy Inspectors (IAEA) inspectors, withdrawn from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and restarted a reactor.

The breakthrough came after North Korea agreed to multi-lateral talks. The isolated country was until recently insisting on bilateral negotiations with Washington.

The US rejected this, demanding instead that the economically-destitute country dismantle its nuclear weapons programme and allow other countries in the region to participate in discussions.

China, which fought alongside the North against the US and the South in the 1950-53 Korean War, is the North's closest ally and its main source of food and energy.

US aid

Separately, US Secretary of State Colin Powell denied a New York Times report that he had proposed extending economic assistance to North Korea.

Powell said President George W Bush is concerned about the welfare of the country's people, many of whom are reported to be starving, but that no aid offer had been made by his administration in a bid to facilitate talks over the nuclear crisis.