U.S. envoy: China offers new draft in N. Korea talks

Monday, August 1, 2005

BEIJING -- China has proposed a new draft of a statement by negotiators at talks on North Korea's nuclear program, the U.S. envoy said today after weekend discussions were snarled by the North's demands for what it should receive in exchange for disarming. The new draft, submitted late Sunday, "reflected all sides' modifications" to the first Chinese-written draft, said assistant secretary of state Christopher Hill, the U.S. envoy to the talks. He would not give any details, but said, "I think the process is going forward rather well."

Hill said delegates would meet Monday to discuss the proposal.

The statement of basic principles is meant to lay the basis for future talks aimed at ending the three-year-old standoff over demands that the North give up nuclear development. The talks involve the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and China -- the host.

According to South Korea's delegate, Deputy Foreign Minister Song Min-soon, talks Sunday focused on a key sticking point: what steps the other governments will take in exchange for an agreement by the North to dismantle its nuclear program.

Hill said earlier that delegates disagreed on the sequence of how disarmament would proceed.

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.

Hill dismissed suggestions that this round of talks -- the fourth in a series that began in 2003 -- might be completed Monday. The delegates have set no ending date, in contrast to earlier sessions, which ended after three days.

"Everything's a problem until everything's solved, and nothing is solved until everything is solved," Hill said.

No details of either draft statement have been released, but a Japanese news report said the first one proposed by China 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 because it fails to mention Japanese citizens the North has admitted to kidnapping, Kyodo said.

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.

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.

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.

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