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Negotiators at North Korea Nuclear Talks Review Last-Ditch Proposal; Differences Still Wide


Negotiators at six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear programs are taking discussions into a sixth day Sunday, as they review a last-minute proposal by the host, China, for a statement of principles.

All sides agreed to stay at least one more day to review the draft, but that appeared to be the only consensus on Saturday. Diplomats said wide differences remained on whether to accept a Chinese draft that states North Korea's right to have a civilian nuclear program, a concept Washington opposes at this stage.

U.S. envoy Christopher Hill has fought to keep the nuclear energy issue out of this phase of talks, and late Saturday, he suggested his position had not changed.

"We cannot create ambiguities at this stage that could lead to confusion in the next phase," said Christopher Hill.

The United States opposes North Korea's demands for a light water nuclear reactor, saying its past record of breaking non-proliferation agreements suggests it might use the technology to make atomic weapons. Washington wants full and verifiable nuclear disarmament, before there is any discussion of a civilian nuclear energy program for North Korea.

The question of sequencing - whether North Korea should dismantle its nuclear weapons programs before or after receiving concessions - has been a key obstacle since the six-nation negotiating process began two years ago.

Ambassador Hill on Sunday said discussions about light-water reactors are taking the focus away from what he says is the fundamental issue of getting rid of North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.

"Some people have suggested we really shouldn't do sequence now, we should just be doing principles, or elements of the agreement," he said. "But, ultimately, we do have to deal with the sequence of some of these issues, and that's what we are trying to do."

The United States has been pressing North Korea to accept the earlier draft for a statement of principles, which offers the North huge amounts of non-nuclear energy from South Korea, economic aid, and security guarantees, but not the right to have a civilian nuclear program.

Host China on Sunday urged all parties in the talks, which also include Russia, South Korea and Japan, to work harder to reach an agreement. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo was quoted by state media as saying it is time for participants to end what he said is a cold war state on the Korean peninsula.

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