Associated Press

Washington, March 3:

Secretary of State Colin Powell offered an upbeat assessment of the latest nuclear weapons talks with North Korea and said cooperation at the negotiating table with South Korea and other allies was unprecedented.

North Korea can expect good relations with its neighbours once it ends its nuclear weapons programme and embraces a policy of political and economic openness now sweeping the area, Powell said yesterday in a speech to an Asian studies group.

Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly said North Korea had agreed to consider a US demand that it dismantle its programme based both on plutonium and uranium enrichment.

"The North Koreans came to the table denying a uranium enrichment programme," Kelly told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday. But, in a reversal, he said "it was clear by the conclusion of the talks that this is now very much on the table."

The American diplomat cited the development as evidence of "a very different, promising atmosphere" in the latest round of negotiations.

While the Bush administration has ruled out concessions to North Korea as a payoff to end its nuclear weapons programme, Powell said without elaboration: "We want to help the people of North Korea, who are in such difficulty now."

Referring to the US partners in the six-nation talks that recessed last week in Beijing, Powell said the United States, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia "have made it clear to North Korea that a better future awaits them, that none of these nations is intent on attacking them or destroying them." There was a good deal of progress at the latest round, Powell said.