Possible breakthrough in North Korea nuclear talks

China distributed a draft agreement early Friday to countries participating in talks to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program, a South Korean official said.

Rice 'cautiously optimistic' in six-nation talks with Pyongyang

Host nation China distributed a draft agreement early Friday to the six countries participating in talks to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program, according to a South Korean official.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because talks were ongoing, gave no details of the draft.

However, other delegates said earlier that the agreement would outline initial steps for implementing a September 2005 agreement from the six-nation talks, where Pyongyang pledged to disarm in exchange for aid and security guarantees.

The draft comes after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed cautious optimism Thursday that North Korea is shifting towards shutting down its program following a positive round of six-nation talks.

"I am cautiously optimistic that we may be able to begin, again, to implement the joint statement of 2005 toward the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula," Rice told a congressional panel.

The remarks were in reference to the vague 2005agreement, under which North Korea first promised to suspend its nuclear program and submit to weapons inspectors. The details of that agreement have been subject to more than a year of debate with North Korea.

Thursday's return to negotiations began on a note of optimism, with Pyongyang showing a surprising willingness to consider nuclear disarmament.

"We are prepared to discuss first-stage measures," North Korean envoy Kim Kye Gwan said in Beijing, in the lead-up to this round of the six-party negotiations, which had been deadlocked for three years.

Kim's remarks on Thursday, giving the talks a glint of hope for a deal, also marked a stark change from North Korea's stance on disarmament in December.

At that time, Kim refused to even discuss denuclearization and demanded the U.S. lift financial restrictions against a bank in Macau that allegedly laundered money for North Korea. The country had also twice boycotted the six-nation talks.

Still, the apparent change in attitude doesn't mean North Korea has completely softened.

'We had a good first day today'

"We are going to make a judgment based on whether the United States will give up its hostile policy and come out toward peaceful co-existence," Kim warned, adding the communist country would not stand for any U.S. policies aimed at toppling its government.

Unlike the last round of talks, in December, delegates this time were at least able to make progress on discussing denuclearization, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said.

"We had a good first day today," Hill, the main U.S. negotiator, told reporters. "We hope we can achieve some kind of joint statement here."

South Korea's envoy Chun Yung-woo lifted hopes that a deal could be reached as soon as this week, telling the Associated Press that China would circulate a draft agreement among delegates by Friday morning.

With files from the Associated Press