North Korea "is set to refrain from test and production of nuclear weapons and stop even operating nuclear power industry for a peaceful purpose as first-phase measures of the package solution. This cannot but be one more bold concession," Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said on Monday.

Amid efforts to convene a new round of six-nation talks to end the nuclear crisis, North Korea said it expected concessions from Washington. 

In return for the proposed freeze, Washington would deliver "simultaneous" actions including removing North Korea from a State Department list of countries accused of "sponsoring terrorism", lifting sanctions and resuming energy aid, said the agency. 

Commitment

Washington, which is seeking a commitment from North Korea to verifiably dismantle its nuclear weapons facilities, has dismissed previous Pyongyang offers of a nuclear freeze in return for rewards. 

Efforts to reconvene nuclear crisis talks following an inconclusive first round in Beijing last August have so far failed with Washington accusing North Korea of setting preconditions and Pyongyang saying the United States is time-wasting and refusing to consider its proposals. 

South Korea said on Tuesday that a new round of talks could be pushed back to the middle of the year as North Korea and the United States harden their positions. 

"I hope the talks will be held in the first half of this year at the latest," South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Young-Kwan told journalists. 

He said scheduling problems among the six participating nations effectively ruled out a hoped-for January date. But he gave no clue as to why a new round could be delayed until June or later.

'Mistrust'

Washington has rejected NKorea
plans for "simultaneous" actions

However, a senior Russia diplomat who attended the initial round of talks in Beijing in August last year blamed intransigence on the part of both the United States and North Korea. 

"The reasons are the same old ones, mistrust and very high demands set by both sides," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov told Interfax news agency after a meeting with senior Chinese officials on Monday. 

Washington has rejected North Korea's plan for "simultaneous" actions and maintains that it is only willing to discuss "sequencing" of steps to aid Pyongyang at the six nation talks, not before them. 

But first, North Korea must agree to scrap its nuclear weapons programme, a demand rejected by Pyongyang as a US ploy to disarm the country prior to invasion. 

"Such a persistent stand of the US will destroy the foundation
of the dialogue and cast a dark shadow on the prospect of the talks," KCNA said.