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Envoys to N. Korean Nuclear Talks Turn to Chickens, Rabbits to Explain Issues

Explaining the painstakingly slow progress at the North Korean nuclear talks can be a complicated business. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Beijing that this week envoys found it useful to look for inspiration to the barnyard, and beyond, when trying to describe their efforts.

While the highly sensitive wheeling and dealing was in progress this week in Beijing, envoys were reluctant to discuss specifics, for fear of affecting the outcome.

So they often spoke in metaphors. Case in point: U.S. chief negotiator Christopher Hill on Friday.

"We can be cautiously optimistic, but we do not want to count our chickens before they hatch," he said.

Hill's North Korean counterpart, chief negotiator Kim Kye Kwan, found the U.S. expression an apt way to summarize the talks' progress.

Kim agreed with Hill on Friday that it was indeed too early to be counting chickens.

South Korean chief envoy Chun Yung-woo refused to chicken out when pushed by reporters to comment on the talks' progress.

Chun would not comment on when the chickens might hatch - but he did say the envoys were not dealing with unfertilized eggs.

After awhile, Hill apparently felt the talk of poultry had gone a bit far, and he poked a little fun at himself and his partners.

"Well - we are not going to sit on the eggs till they hatch," he said.

Does that mean Hill abandoned the metaphors? He did not. He just turned his attention to another animal.

"There is no magic in diplomacy. I mean, whenever you pull a rabbit out of a hat, it is because you have spent a lot of time - boy, a lot of time - trying to stuff that rabbit down into the hat," he said.

Later, Hill invoked one of his favorite leisure pursuits - American football - and the analogy of the game's often slow, incremental progress toward victory.

"It is always three yards, three yards, three yards, and it is always fourth and one," he hoted. "And, then you make a first down and do three more yards. That is an American football metaphor, I apologize."

What he may have meant was, when dealing with North Korea, it is best not to put the cart before the horse.