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North Korea has offered to scrap 8,000 spent nuclear fuel rods that contain the bomb-making element plutonium in exchange for economic aid from the United States, it was reported Tuesday.

Meanwhile, U.S. nuclear experts are likely to visit North Korea later this month to help slow the corrosion of the fuel rods, other reports said.The fate of the rods is a central issue at U.S.-North Korea talks under way in Geneva on opening the secretive North's nuclear sites to international inspection.

North Korea claims its nuclear program is peaceful, but its 17-month refusal to allow full inspections has deepened suspicions it has been developing atomic bombs.

North Korea agreed in June to freeze its nuclear program pending the Geneva talks, which then were postponed following the July 8 death of longtime leader Kim Il Sung.

During the month's delay, the spent fuel rods from the North's 5-megawatt reactor continued to decay. The North says it must begin reprocessing them by the end of the month to avoid contaminating its nuclear complex.

Western experts calculate North Korea could extract enough plutonium from the rods during reprocessing to make five nuclear weapons. Western analysts believe the Communist North already has enough plutonium to make at least one atomic bomb.

U.S. officials demanded the rods, removed in May, be turned over to a third country like China. North Korea balked, saying the rods are its property.

North Korea's chief delegate to the Geneva talks, Kang Sok Ju, said after Monday's session that he made new proposals to ease concerns over the spent fuel rods. He did not elaborate.