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U.S. may support incentives to N. Korea

North Korean delegation in Moscow
Unidentified members of North Korea's delegation arrive for talks at the Russian Foreign Ministry guest house in Moscow.

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Do you think multilateral talks with North Korea will help ease tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear program?

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration is prepared to support incentives for North Korea if Pyongyang guarantees to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, two senior administration officials told CNN.

The deal is expected to be presented to North Korea at talks in Beijing later this month that are to include the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.

China's Foreign Ministry on Thursday confirmed the multilateral talks will be held in the Chinese capital on August 27.

Under the deal, the United States would give Pyongyang written assurance, guaranteed by the parties to the talks, that it has no intention of attacking North Korea, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The deal also would include economic incentives, the officials said, including an end to a long-standing trade embargo and U.S. assistance in helping North Korea secure loans from institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank.

Late Wednesday, Secretary of State Colin Powell seemed to downplay the possibility the deal would include economic incentives. "We have put no economic proposals forward at the moment," he told reporters.

But Powell did point out that President Bush "has said many times that he is concerned about the welfare of the North Korean people."

Powell's remarks came as U.S., Japanese and South Korean officials met at the State Department to discuss their strategy in Beijing. Another meeting is planned Thursday.

At his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Bush said the administration was "making good progress" on North Korea, and he applauded the various nations with whom the United States has been working.

"We're going to continue the dialogue with North Korea to make it clear to them that not only does the United States feel strongly that the peninsula ought to be nuclear-free, but other countries, which live in the neighborhood, feel the same way," Bush said.

North Korea has said one of its key demands is for the United States to agree to a nonaggression pact.

While the Bush administration has ruled out signing a formal treaty, U.S. officials said they hope written assurance in the form of a security communique issued at the Beijing talks, scheduled for August 26-27, would satisfy North Korean concerns.

As part of a possible deal, the United States also would consider getting Congress to pass a resolution in support of a Beijing communique, the officials said.

Privately, U.S. officials resist characterizing this as a "concession," and insist the deal would hold only so long as there were "no more provocative acts" by North Korea.

Officials said the United States and Japan agree North Korea must take steps to end or freeze its nuclear program if it is to receive any concessions, such as food aid or a security guarantee. But they also said South Korea wants to reward North Korea much earlier in the process.

"These talks are aimed at narrowing the gaps," one official said.

The official said that China and Russia are pushing for the talks to focus solely on North Korea's nuclear program, fearing that raising issues such as human rights or Japanese abductees could antagonize North Korea.

U.S. officials said they don't anticipate a breakthrough during the Beijing talks, but the outcome will depend on North Korea's response to a possible security communique.

If all goes well, the officials said they expect the talks to be the first of several rounds. "We definitely expect more than one round," one official said. "We are in this for the long haul."

Ever since Bush branded North Korea part of an "axis of evil," along with Iraq and Iran, a war of words has escalated between the two nations, and Pyongyang has upped its nuclear ante.

After admitting to Washington in October 2002 it was pursuing a covert nuclear weapons program, North Korea kicked out inspectors and pulled out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Pyongyang says these are self-defense measures forced on it by Washington's "hostile" policy and has called for one-on-one talks with Washington.

A breakthrough came earlier this month when North Korea and the United States said they had agreed to six-country talks.

They follow three-way talks in Beijing in April at which a North Korean official told the United States the country already had nuclear bombs and was preparing to make more.

Russia has reportedly been talking to diplomats from most of the nations taking part in the talks, with top officials from Russia and South Korea due to meet this week. (Russia, S. Korea to meet)

China and Russia are the North's closest allies, but they have been concerned about Pyongyang's nuclear movements.

Meanwhile, Japan and South Korea are particularly wary of a nuclear North as the communist country has missiles capable of hitting both nations. (Japan: N. Korea top threat)

North Korea sent shock waves across the region in 1998 when it test fired a missile that flew over Japan's main island.

CNN State Department Correspondent Andrea Koppel and producer Elise Labott contributed to this report.

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