The US offered North Korea on Wednesday a three-month period to prepare to dismantle its nuclear weapons programme and promised to investigate its energy needs, a senior official said.

In return, North Korea must provide a full listing of its nuclear activities, disable some dangerous materials and allow monitoring.

In unveiling the new plan to bring an end to the 20-month impasse, a senior US official dangled the terrorism carrot in front of Pyongyang.

The seven-page plan holds out the possibility of Washington lifting economic sanctions on North Korea and taking steps toward forming normal diplomatic relations, the US officials said.

Offer

Under the proposal, aid would flow immediately after a commitment by North Korea to dismantle its plutonium and uranium-based weapons programmes and the US would knock North Korea off its list of terrorist states.

North Korea's military will play a
big role in Pyongyang's decision
Nations other than the United States would be given the go-ahead to start sending heavy fuel oil while Washington would offer a "provisional" guarantee not to invade the country, he said. 

"We would look at their energy needs, look at their concerns on sanctions, their concerns of being on the list of terrorist states," the official said.

South Korean delegate Lee Soo-hyuck said Seoul offered to provide heavy fuel oil to North Korea as part of compensation for a freeze and then quick dismantlement, adding the US proposal resembled South Korea's plan.

Pyongyang response

"The US proposal is very complicated and North Korea is going to need time to analyse it," he told reporters.

North Korea would receive "provisional security guarantees" from other countries taking part in the talks while the nuclear dismantling work is carried out, according to the officials.

"We would look at their energy needs, look at their concerns on sanctions, their concerns of being on the list of terrorist states"

Senior US official

North Korea has insisted that without such a guarantee, it must keep its nuclear programme to deter a possible US attack.

The proposal didn't specify what form the security guarantee would take, but any agreement would be lent weight by the political and military stature of the countries involved, the US officials said.

The proposal doesn't go into details on such things as a timeline of what benefits North Korea might receive for each stage of the process, the officials said.

The two Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and host China have held two previous rounds of senior-level talks on the 20-month crisis, both of which ended inconclusively.

The third round of talks over North Korea's nuclear weapons programmes opened on Wednesday and are expected to run until Saturday.