North Korean nuclear weapons talks hit snag

Monday, August 1, 2005

BEIJING -- North Korea's demands for what it should receive in exchange for abandoning its nuclear weapons program snarled talks Sunday, but the U.S. envoy maintained that "things are moving," with more negotiations planned Monday. The negotiations ended their sixth day without an agreement on a Chinese-drafted proposal, and South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Song Min-soon said talks Sunday focused on "what corresponding measures other parties will take" in return for an agreement by the North to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

The North has demanded concessions such as security guarantees and aid from Washington before it eliminates its weapons program, while the United States wants to see the arms destroyed first. The North has also insisted that it be allowed to run a peaceful nuclear power program, something Washington objects to out of proliferation concerns.

"We are trying to come up with an agreed statement which contains all the key points that have been discussed so far, but how long it will take remains to be seen," Song said.

No details of the draft agreement have been released, but a Japanese news report said it called for North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programs and other programs that could potentially produce such arms. The draft also addresses normalization of U.S. and Japanese relations with the North, Kyodo News agency reported, citing an anonymous source at the talks.

The Japanese side is dissatisfied with the draft proposed by China -- host of the six-nation talks -- because it fails to mention Japanese citizens the North has admitted to kidnapping, Kyodo said.

The chief U.S. envoy, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, earlier said the Chinese draft proposed Saturday was a "good basis" for future negotiations.

No end date for the talks has been set, and Hill said Sunday that "it's going to take a while." He noted that the process requires translating texts into the five languages of the six nations at the talks: Chinese, English, Japanese, Korean and Russian.

"I want to caution everyone that it's a lot of work to look at a document and go line by line by line," Hill said. "Things are moving, we have to see how it goes."

Hill said earlier that delegates disagreed on the sequence of how disarmament would proceed. Before totally dismantling its nuclear weapons program, the North has demanded concessions, which the Americans have declined to give before verifying the program has been eliminated.

Another issue of contention is the North's demand that it be allowed peaceful use of nuclear technology to remedy its electricity shortage, a request dating back to an earlier nuclear crisis that ended in a 1994 agreement with the United States. But Washington is reluctant to allow it any nuclear programs that could be diverted to weapons use.

The current round of disarmament talks with North Korea that began Tuesday in Beijing is the longest since they began in 2003. Three previous rounds each lasted about three days.

North Korea's foreign minister has repeated that the communist nation could rejoin the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and admit international inspectors if the talks are successful. The statement Friday by the foreign minister while in Laos was reported Sunday by the North's official news agency, echoing remarks in June by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

Meanwhile, South Korea said Sunday it has agreed with the North to hold an opening ceremony in late October for railways and roads reconnected across the heavily fortified border dividing the peninsula.

Seoul has continued its engagement with North Korea despite the nuclear standoff, which erupted in late 2002 after U.S. officials said the North admitted running a secret uranium enrichment program.

In February, the North claimed it had nuclear weapons and has since taken steps that would allow it to harvest more plutonium for possible use in bombs.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: