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Rice Focuses on Nukes; N. Korea to Rejoin Talks

Ending a yearlong boycott, North Korea (search) agreed on Saturday night to resume international talks this month about its nuclear weapons program, a senior U.S. official said.

North Korea conveyed its decision as U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) arrived in Beijing for discussions with Chinese leaders about North Korean issues.

North Korea's vice foreign minister, Kim Gee Wan (search), disclosed his government's decision during a dinner with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill in the Chinese capital. The talks are to resume during the week of July 25.

A similar announcement came from the North's official Korean Central News Agency.

Rice's four-nation swing through East Asia was aimed primarily at finding ways to encourage North Korea to return to talks involving the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea.

She planned meetings Sunday with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing.

Rice told reporters traveling with her that she believes China shared her commitment to a negotiated end to North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

"When it comes to making sure that over time we get a non-nuclear Korean Peninsula, that's just a very high priority for the Chinese," she said en route to Beijing.

China, as the principal source for food and energy aid to North Korea, has more leverage over its neighbor than do other parties in the talks.

She said she would ask the Chinese for an update on recent discussions they have had with the North Koreans.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Robert Joseph said recently that the Bush administration believes that "China can do more to get them (the North Koreans) to eliminate their nuclear weapons program."

Rice also plans stops in Japan, South Korea and Thailand, where she visits for the resort city of Phuket to survey the extent of reconstruction efforts following last December's devastating tsunami.

Possibly as a confidence building measure, Rice refrained during the trip from Washington from negative rhetoric about North Korea, reaffirming the U.S. has no plans to attack the country and recognizes it as a sovereign state.

North Korea has reacted angrily to Rice's designation of North Korea in January as an "outpost of tyranny." Last week a senior North Korean official demanded a retraction.

Rice said she has no intention of sweetening a U.S. proposal to provide energy and other aid to North Korea once the country makes a credible commitment to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

That offer was made at the last round of talks a year ago. North Korea had yet to respond, until Saturday.