updated 7/19/2005 4:25:43 AM ET 2005-07-19T08:25:43

International nuclear arms talks with North Korea will resume July 26 in Beijing after a 13-month break because of Pyongyang's refusal to attend, the South Korean Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.

North Korea agreed earlier this month to return to the talks during the week of July 25 after being assured by the top U.S. nuclear envoy that Washington recognized its sovereignty. South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that the talks would convene July 26. No closing date was given.

The previous three rounds, which started in 2003, lasted for several days and failed to lead to any breakthroughs. South Korea is pressing for this round of the six-nation talks to be more flexible and last longer — possibly up to a month or more.

South Korea plans to “play a progressive and active role in making substantial progress at this round of six-party talks for resolution of the North Korean nuclear problem,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States have sought at the talks to convince the North to abandon its nuclear weapons. The nuclear crisis was sparked in late 2002 when U.S. officials accused the North of running a secret uranium enrichment program.

In February, the North claimed publicly for the first time that it had nuclear weapons, and it has since claimed that it’s made other moves that would allow it to harvest weapons-grade plutonium from its main nuclear reactor. Experts believe the North has enough plutonium to make at least a half-dozen bombs, but it has never tested any weapons that would confirm its arsenal.

Conference on human rights in North Korea
Meanwhile, in a move sure to raise concerns in North Korea, activists were to meet Tuesday at a Washington conference on North Korean human rights that is partially funded by the U.S. government.

President Bush has also decided to appoint a special envoy for North Korean human rights who was to appear at the conference, but the announcement is being delayed and his attendance there canceled out of concern over the delicate nuclear negotiations, a senior U.S. official said in Washington on condition of anonymity.

In Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Tuesday ahead of the nuclear talks that Japan is still committed to normalizing diplomatic relations with North Korea. He visited Pyongyang in 2002, where the two countries agreed to reconcile, but relations have stalled over the North’s nuclear ambitions and Tokyo’s demands for more information on the fate of several Japanese abducted by North Korea.

“Japan’s policy has not changed at all, that we will normalize ties with North Korea in compliance with the Pyongyang declaration” at the 2002 summit, Koizumi told reporters.

North Korea on Monday said it and the United States should agree to coexist and respect each other at the renewed nuclear talks.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun on Monday said the United States “has the final key” to a solution at the talks.

South Korea revealed earlier this month that it has offered massive energy aid to the North as an incentive for it to give up its nuclear weapons. The United States has said it would offer diplomatic recognition and trade to North Korea only after international inspectors verify it has completely dismantled its nuclear program.

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