The talks involving South Korea, North Korea, the United States, Japan, China and Russia will be held from 27 to 29 August in Beijing, the ministry said in a statement.

  

"The government hopes the nuclear issue will be resolved peacefully through the six-way talks and will make active efforts for that goal," the ministry said.

 

Warm-up talks

  

The announcement came amid a series of warm-up talks among diplomats from the six nations, prior to the Beijing meeting.

  

Chinese Foreign Minister, Li Zhaoxing, is to meet South Korean President, Roh Moo-Hyun, on Thursday, as US officials huddled with colleagues from Japan and South Korea in Washington to refine tactics on North Korea.

  

South Korea wants North Korea and the US to take reciprocal steps, while Japan has not ruled out punitive action against Pyongyang.

  

On Wednesday, Pyongyang fired off a new demand for a non-aggression pact that Washington has refused to grant and ruled out an early inspection of its nuclear facilities.

 

"The government hopes the nuclear issue will be resolved peacefully through the six-way talks and will make active efforts for that goal."

--South Korean foreign ministry

Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister, Alexander Losyukov, backed Pyongyang's demands for a non-aggression pact as "absolutely logical."

  

He also cautioned against applying economic sanctions against Pyongyang.

  

The US has consistently rejected a non-aggression pact. But Secretary of State, Colin Powell, last week suggested there may be a way for the US Congress to take note of a less formal arrangement, especially if it encompassed other regional powers.

  

Media reports in Tokyo said Japan was making a proposal to South Korea and the US that they promised non-aggression and energy aid to North Korea if it abandoned its nuclear ambitions.

  

The proposal also envisaged a ban on developing, test-firing, exporting or deploying missiles while calling for the abolition of biological and chemical weapons.

 

In return, North Korea would be offered non-aggression and a comprehensive package to address its serious energy shortage, including the resumed supply of 500,000 tons of fuel oil a year, the reports said.

 

The crisis erupted last October, when the US accused Pyongyang of reneging on a 1994 bilateral nuclear freeze accord by setting up a clandestine programme based on enriched uranium.

  

North Korea then kicked out International Atomic Energy Agency monitors and withdrew from the treaty. Pyongyang has since claimed to have reprocessed 8,000 spent fuel rods at its nuclear plant at Yongbyon.