The US threatened to freeze North Korean assets if Pyongyang did not toe the line in talks aimed at ending its nuclear weapons program, but a new proposal from China raised hopes for progress.
The six-party talks in Beijing looked in jeopardy yesterday -- their fourth day -- as Pyongyang hung tough, rejecting a South Korean offer of electricity in return for renouncing nuclear arms and insisting on its right to nuclear energy.
"We will never give up our nuclear" program before the US nuclear threat is removed from the Korean Peninsula, North Korean spokesman Hyun Hak-bong told reporters.
"We will just do it our way. For us, we cannot stop our way of peaceful nuclear activities for one minute," Hyun said, reading from a written statement.
But China, hosting the negotiations, put forward a revised draft statement which was thought to acknowledge North Korea's right in principle to an atomic energy program, offering a potential way out of the stalemate.
"We think that this new document is balanced in character, and it includes North Korea's right to peaceful atomic energy and the possibility in the long term of building a light-water nuclear reactor," Russian news agencies quoted Russian chief negotiator Alexander Alexeyev as saying.
The proposal contains "compromise wording which could satisfy both sides," Alexeyev said, referring to the US and the North.
China has asked all parties for a response on its draft by this afternoon, a South Korean official said.
Washington has insisted the North can't be trusted with any nuclear program given its history of pursuing atomic bombs. But North Korea has demanded it be given a nuclear reactor for generating electricity before disarming.
Hyun said Pyongyang would be willing to see the nuclear reactor co-managed and that it would be open to international inspections.
US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill had said at the start of the day that the talks were at a standstill over the North's demands for a reactor in exchange for its weapons programs. But he said later he had "good" discussions with the North's chief delegate.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the US was taking measures to stop the spread of nuclear technology regardless of what happens at the talks, through intelligence sharing and freezing of assets of those involved.
"We're not sitting still, you know, we're working on anti-proliferation measures that help to protect us," Rice told the New York Post in an interview released on Thursday by the State Department.