In discussions with North Korean officials, U.S. diplomats offered specific details on the kind of economic and energy assistance Pyongyang would receive in exchange for dismantling its nuclear weapons facilities, a State Department official said Wednesday.

Ambassador Christopher Hill discussed what the United States and other parties to the six-nation negotiation would do in response to a credible North Korean disarmament commitment, the official said.

The basic outlines of the next steps were spelled out in a statement of principles signed by the six nations in September 2005. There has been little headway since then but Hill's talks in Beijing raised hopes about the possibility of forward movement.

The official asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak on the record.

The purpose of Hill's discussions in Beijing was to prepare for the next meeting of the six nations — the United States, North and South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

The New York Times reported in its Wednesday editions that Hill told the North Koreans that progress would hinge on their agreeing to dismantle some equipment they are using to expand its nuclear arsenal, even before returning to negotiations.

Hill said last week the talks could be held in mid-December but the department official who spoke Wednesday, while not ruling out that time frame, raised the possibility of an early January meeting.

In Beijing, Hill met with North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, who returned to Pyongyang to present the proposals to his government.

On Tuesday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the Beijing discussions took place in a positive atmosphere.

"In these meetings, the North Koreans have been very engaged," he said.

The administration wants the next round of talks to be as well prepared as they can possibly be to increase chances of success," McCormack added.

In addition to economic and energy benefits, the statement of principles signed in September 2005 also contains security guarantees for North Korea.

China, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States all expressed a willingness in the statement to provide energy assistance.

The six also agreed to promote economic cooperation in the fields of energy, trade and investment.