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North Korea Nuclear Talks May be Extended


An apparent last-minute softening of North Korea's position at the six-party nuclear talks has allowed the negotiations to continue into Tuesday. Earlier, delegates had said Monday was the deadline for North Korea to make a decision. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Beijing, where the talks are in their fifth day.

A South Korean official told reporters Monday the six-party nuclear talks were expected to enter an unexpected sixth day, amid signs of "more sincere" bargaining by North Korea.

Only a short time earlier, China had announced that Monday would be the final day of the talks. Delegates including South Korea's chief negotiator, Chun Yung-woo, said proposals had been made, the bargaining was over, and it was time for North Korea to say yes or no.

Speaking Monday morning, Chun said the five partner delegations agreed the talks had to come to a conclusion on Monday.

The five - South Korea, China, Russia, Japan and the United States - are pushing North Korea to agree to a list of steps aimed at starting the North's nuclear disarmament.

But delegates say Pyongyang's demands so far for energy aid in return for disarmament have been "excessive."

The delegations are working from a proposal of steps drawn up by China last week. Although details of the proposal have not been made public, delegates say the dispute centers around how much energy aid the five nations would give North Korea, the timing of that aid, and what the North would give in return.

South Korea has already promised to provide North Korea with huge amounts of electricity in return for the North abandoning its nuclear weapons programs.

The senior U.S. negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, says Washington is also willing to provide economic and energy aid. However, he says North Korea should not be given so much energy that it loses its incentive to disarm fully.

Pyongyang conducted its first nuclear test in October, and it claims to have several nuclear weapons.

On Monday morning, Hill summed up the feeling of the five partner delegations, saying the bargaining process, which began last Thursday, was basically over.

"You just do as much as you can - and when you feel you've done as much as you can, I think you can kind of relax about it, and feel you've done everything you can do," he said. "And that's kind of where we are on this."

Hill said that if no deal is reached at this round of talks, it would be difficult to reconvene the six-party format. It was not long after those comments that signs of a possible softening of Pyongyang's position emerged.

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