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US, North Korean Envoys to Confer Again in Beijing


The State Department says U.S. and North Korean envoys will meet in Beijing for a second straight day Wednesday to try to lay groundwork for a new round of Chinese-sponsored talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program. The six-party talks are expected to resume before the end of the year. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here are casting the meetings between the senior U.S. and North Korean envoys as exchanges of information rather than negotiations.

But the apparent intensity of the dialogue is unusual, and giving rise to expectations that the six-party talks will reconvene soon after being idle for more than a year.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Christopher Hill, also the lead U.S. negotiator in the nuclear talks, has spent much of the last two weeks in Beijing meeting with the Chinese hosts of the negotiations.

Monday, his North Korean counterpart, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, joined the dialogue, first in a three-way meeting with Hill and Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei and then in a separate meeting with the U.S. envoy.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said plans call for the talks to continue Wednesday under the same format including another separate U.S.-North Korean session.

He declined to provide details of what occurred in the initial round between Assistant Secretary Hill and his North Korean counterpart, but said it was not an attempt to shape a nuclear deal and pre-empt the six-party format:

"I wouldn't call what you have negotiations. We are providing information to the North Koreans," he said. "They are providing information back to us. There's no guarantee that when you get to the talks, that that's the actual outcome that you're going to arrive at. One would hope that when all the six parties get together, and everybody has all their input - lay it on the table - that you come up with a good solution that allows us to move this process forward."

The six-party talks, which include South Korea, Russia and Japan as well as North Korea, the United States and host China, began in Beijing in 2003 after the breakdown of a bilateral U.S.-North Korean nuclear freeze arrangement reached in 1994.

An agreement in principle was reached in September of last year under which North Korea was to scrap its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security guarantees from the other parties.

But Pyongyang refused to return to the talks after November of 2005, citing banking sanctions imposed by the Bush administration because of alleged North Korean counterfeiting of U.S. currency and other illicit financial activity.

The process appeared to hit a low ebb after North Korea tested a nuclear device in October and was hit with U.N. sanctions, though Pyongyang agreed to return to the six-party talks at the end of October after a set of previously unannounced meetings with the U.S. and Chinese envoys.

No date has been set for the next six-way round, though U.S. officials say they remain hopeful it can begin before the end of the year.

In comments after Tuesday's Beijing meetings, North Korean envoy Kim said his country's nuclear test had been a defensive measure, and that as a nuclear power Pyongyang can now negotiate with the others on an equal basis.

In response, spokesman McCormack said the United States sees North Korea's nuclear status as a reversible state, and that the objective of the six-party process continues to be a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.

A senior U.S. diplomat said the Bush administration had no intention of abandoning the financial sanctions in order to draw North Korea back to the six-party talks, but is ready to discuss the issue in a working group within the framework of the negotiations.

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