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Tokyo - China has sounded out the nations involved in stalled six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear programme about the possibility of holding informal discussions later this month, a Japanese daily reported on Sunday.
Tensions have risen recently across the region since US officials said satellite pictures indicated North Korea had begun what appeared to be preparations to launch a ballistic missile that some experts say could reach parts of the United States.
According to sources quoted by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei in late June summoned ambassadors from the other nations involved in the negotiations to propose holding informal talks in the week of July 17, after the Group of Eight advanced nations summit in Russia.
No further information was available, but the paper said the move was believed to be aimed both at breaking the stalemate over the six-party talks - which last convened in November - and defusing tensions over a possible missile launch.
Japanese officials were not immediately available for comment.
North Korea has refused to return to the talks since November because of a US crackdown on firms suspected of aiding it in illicit financial activities.
Pyongyang has long sought two-way talks with Washington outside the six-party process, which groups Russia, Japan, China, the United States and the two Koreas. Washington has refused.
North Korea accused the United States on Saturday of preparing for a nuclear war on the Korean peninsula and said it would bolster its own deterrent in response.