Sunday, July 31, 2005

U.S. Envoy Likes Chinese Proposal In North Korea Nuclear Talks

Talks to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons focused Saturday on a draft statement that the main U.S. envoy praised as a good basis for discussion, a sign of possible progress after an unprecedented five days of meetings. However, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill stressed differences remained with North Korea on a resolution of the 2½-year-old nuclear standoff, which has raised regional tension and concerns that it could spark an arms race in East Asia. "Today was the first opportunity, really, to take something that could become the final document and try to see if we can reach agreement on it," Hill told reporters of the draft proposed by China, the six-nation talks' host. He would not provide details, but said "we think it's a good basis" for negotiation. No end date has been set for the talks, which began Tuesday. Hill said he doubted they would conclude Sunday. The talks have focused on a definition of "denuclearization" of the Korean Peninsula. The North says that should mean removal of alleged U.S. nuclear weapons in South Korea as well dissolving the American "nuclear umbrella" of security guarantees to its longtime ally. Washington and Seoul both deny the U.S. has nuclear weapons in South Korea. Hill held another meeting Saturday with the North, their fifth such direct contact at the current fourth round of talks that also include Japan, Russia and South Korea. There was a "consensus on denuclearization" between the negotiators, but North Korea "has an emphasis on some other elements," Hill said. He declined to elaborate. "As much as I would like to talk about progress, you know it's hard to talk about progress until you actually have an agreement," Hill said. The Japanese newspaper Yomiuri, citing anonymous sources, said delegates "roughly agreed" on a draft document that mentions a safety guarantee and economic assistance for North Korea along with a promise of normalized relations with the United States. It does not detail how the North would abandon its nuclear program or what it would get in return, the newspaper said. Hill said earlier that delegates disagreed on the sequence of how disarmament would proceed. The North has demanded concessions before totally dismantling its nuclear weapons program, while the Americans want to grant concessions only after verifying the program has been eliminated. Another issue of contention is the North's demand to 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. Under that accord, the North was to be provided with two reactors that could not be used to make weapons. Construction on those reactors was halted after the latest standoff erupted in late 2002, when U.S. officials said North Korea acknowledged running a secret uranium enrichment program — which it has since denied. South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon, in Laos for a regional conference, said Saturday the North still wants to finish building the two reactors and also wants to receive electricity directly from South Korea under a new aid proposal made this year to help resolve the nuclear issue, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.