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US-North Korean Disagreement Continues to Hold Up Nuclear Talks

  • Roger Wilkison

Disagreements between the United States and North Korea are holding up resumption of talks aimed at dismantling the North's nuclear weapons program. Roger Wilkison reports from VOA's Bureau in Beijing, where international envoys have met without setting a date for the next six-nation negotiations.

The aim of the Beijing meetings this week - involving envoys from the United States, China, Japan, North and South Korea - was to lay the groundwork for re-launching three-year old North Korean nuclear disarmament talks.

Re-starting those talks gained new urgency after North Korea conducted its first nuclear test October 9.

North Korea promised in principle on September 19, 2005 to give up its nuclear ambitions, but has boycotted negotiations for more than a year on how and when to implement that agreement.

Speaking Thursday to reporters in Beijing, North Korea's chief negotiator, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, said his country hasn't changed its stance.

"We are ready to implement our commitment in the September 19 joint statement. But we cannot unilaterally abandon the nuclear program at this point," he said.

The main stumbling block to implementing the September agreement is when North Korea begins dismantling its nuclear programs. It wants aid and promised security guarantees first. The United States and some allies have rejected any compensation until Pyongyang acts.

There are additional complications to resuming talks. North Korea is insisting international economic sanctions be lifted before it will return to negotiations - which also involve China, Japan, Russia, the United States and South Korea.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, who left Beijing Thursday before Kim's remarks, says he gave Kim ideas on how to break the deadlock.

"These are ideas that are designed to make rapid progress," he said. "We discussed them, and they are going to take them back to Pyongyang. And we hope to hear from them soon. We've got to get North Korea off of this nuclearization program. Unless they denuclearize, really nothing is going to be possible."

Despite the lack of concrete results, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, called the discussions positive.

"China believes these meetings were beneficial and conducive to promoting mutual understanding of respective positions and concerns," she said.

None of the envoys involved gave any indication when the six-party talks, or even preparatory discussions, might resume.

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