Sun, Jun 27, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Six-nation N Korean nuclear talks end in stalemate


Six-nation talks on Washington's demand for North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions ended yesterday without a breakthrough but with envoys promising to discuss the "first steps for denuclearization" of the North before meeting again by the end of September.

The US, the two Koreas, China, Japan and Russia agreed to hold low-level discussions as soon as possible to define the North's initial moves toward disarmament, how they would be monitored and what kind of aid it could expect in return.

During the four-day talks in Beijing, North Korea said it would give up its nuclear program in exchange for fuel aid, an end to US economic sanctions and removal from the American list of countries that sponsor terrorism.

"We plan to not only freeze these facilities but also to dismantle them when [appropriate] conditions are created," the North said in a statement read to reporters outside its embassy.

The negotiators may still be far apart on how much the North must do to become eligible for the fuel aid and other benefits it is seeking, including security guarantees from Washington.

The talks' host, China, canceled a closing ceremony for the meeting, and delegates issued a "chairman's statement" rather than a joint statement -- signals that talks may have ended in discord.

"There is still a serious lack of mutual trust among the parties," Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi (王毅) said. He said there were still a "a number of differences and even opposing ideas."

The two-page chairman's statement said "The parties agreed in principle to hold the fourth round of the six-party talks in Beijing by the end of September, 2004."

It said lower-level discussions would be held "at the earliest possible date to define the scope, duration and verification as well as corresponding measures for first steps for denuclearization." Diplomats use the phrase "corresponding measures" to mean concessions granted to the North.

Two previous rounds of six-nation talks, held at a walled government guesthouse in Beijing, produced no major progress on the stated goal of all of North Korea's negotiating partners: A nuclear-weapon-free Korean Peninsula.

This week, "there have been no breakthroughs," a senior US official said on Friday on condition of anonymity. "The process is moving along, but we're not ready to declare success."

But US Department spokesman Adam Ereli in Washington was more upbeat, saying negotiators were exchanging proposals.

"The parties have been earnest in exploring the various proposals put forward," Ereli said. "We expect this process to continue, following the closing of the talks."

Also yesterday, Japan's Kyodo News agency reported that US Defense Department officials told Japanese counterparts that North Korea may have test-launched a short-range missile into the Sea of Japan earlier in the week, ahead of the talks. Japan has not indepen-dently confirmed the information, Kyodo News said.

In Washington, Pentagon officials could not immediately confirm the report.

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