The Japanese daily Asahi Shimbun quoted South Korean government sources as saying China was trying to finalise the dates for the talks, aimed at halting North Korea's nuclear weapons programme. 

"The date has not been decided yet but we expect the second round of six-way talks to be held within this year," South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young-kwan said.

"This is quite possible because all the relevant countries share consensus on that," the minister added.

In Tokyo, a foreign ministry official said there was no fixed date for talks to follow the initial six-country meeting that Beijing hosted in August.

"The date has not been decided yet but we expect the second round of six-way talks to be held within this year"

Yoon Young-kwan,
South Korean Foreign Minister

Optimism

"Although North Korea has shown some positive signs since President Bush made new overtures at the time of the APEC summit, nothing specific has yet been decided," the official said.

Bush had pledged last month not to attack North Korea, if it agreed to abandon its nuclear weapons programme.

North Korea, which had demanded a bilateral non-aggression treaty with the US, initially dismissed the Bush offer as laughable, but said later it was prepared to consider it.

Another report from Japan's Kyodo news agency said North Korea had indicated it was prepared to accept talks in mid-December if certain conditions were met.