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US, North Korean Envoys Discuss Ending North's Nuclear Weapons

Senior U.S. and North Korean negotiators have focused on a draft proposal of concrete steps toward ending North Korea's nuclear weapons capabilities. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Beijing, where a second day of six-nation talks on the North's weapons is fueling hope for progress toward a deal.

The chief U.S. and North Korean negotiators held a two-hour, one-on-one meeting here Friday. They were going over a Chinese proposal of specific steps that North Korea, the United States and other parties to the talks could take within weeks to set the process of Pyongyang's nuclear disarmament in motion.

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the chief U.S. negotiator, and his North Korean counterpart, Kim Kye Kwan, met in conjunction with a second day of renewed six-party talks aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs. Japan, Russia and South Korea are also involved in the talks.

Although both men say differences remain, Hill says the luncheon discussions went well.

"I think we can be cautiously optimistic, but don't want to count our chickens before they hatch," he said.

North Korea's Kim echoed the spirit - and the wording - of Hill's comments.

Kim says he and the other five parties will work to resolve remaining differences - and he agrees that it is too early to be counting chickens.

Negotiators went into this new session voicing more optimism than during previous rounds - so much so that China circulated a draft of specific proposals. The contents of the Chinese draft have not been made public, but negotiators say it sets out ways the parties could begin implementing a pledge Pyongyang made in September 2005, to dismantle its nuclear programs in exchange for economic and diplomatic benefits.

Shortly after making that pledge, Pyongyang began boycotting the talks, to protest the U.S. Treasury Department's blacklisting of a Macau bank that had dealings with the North. U.S. officials say the bank had helped North Korea launder money from counterfeiting and other illicit activities. North Korea says it wants the sanction lifted before it will agree to any progress in the nuclear talks.

Hill says the Chinese proposal does not deal with the financial issue. He says that is being addressed separately in talks between U.S. and North Korean financial authorities.

The contents of the Chinese proposal are expected to be published within the next several days.