The South Korean delegate to talks on denuclearizing North Korea says Pyongyang is prepared to declare and disable all its nuclear programs by the end of the year. The chief U.S. negotiator, meanwhile, says the latest session of talks in Beijing was "open" and "substantive" and covered all topics, including the sensitive issue of North Korea's alleged secret uranium enrichment program. Daniel Schearf reports from the Chinese capital.
The South Korean delegate, Chun Young-woo, said Wednesday that North Korea is willing to reveal and disable all its nuclear facilities and materials by the end of this year.
None of the other delegates to the talks Wednesday confirmed Chun's statement. But the reported concession is in line with a timeframe suggested by the United States, which would have North Korea give up all its nuclear materials sometime during 2008.
The chief U.S. negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, told reporters that the host of the talks, China, would announce Thursday an agreed "broad timeframe" for the declaration and dismantlement.
Hill, as usual, was also realistic about how quickly events might actually move.
"We do have a pretty good framework," Hill said. "We, I think, have a very good agenda. I believe we're making progress on this. But, I'm very mindful of the fact that every time we go to a next stage, you come into further complications, and bumps in the road can turn out to be very difficult to overcome."
One potential bump in the road is the U.S. allegation that North Korea is conducting a secret uranium enrichment program, alongside its declared plutonium program. Both enriched uranium and plutonium can be used as nuclear weapons fuel. North Korea has denied having the uranium program.
Hill said the discussion during the first of two scheduled days of talks did not avoid any topics, no matter how sensitive, including the alleged uranium program.
"It's just one of those elements we raise all the time…It's part of the issue of the declaration, because we can't have a declaration that's partial," Hill said.
Hill said there was no need for North Korea to make full disclosure of its nuclear programs before the foreign ministers of the six parties to the talks meet sometime later this year. Japan and Russia are also taking part in the talks.
Hill said a date for a foreign ministers' meeting would be discussed at Thursday's session.
This latest round of talks, the first since February, began with new momentum. The head of the United Nations nuclear monitoring agency confirmed Wednesday that Pyongyang has shut down its main nuclear reactor, as well as four other nuclear facilities.
At the February session of talks, North Korea agreed in principle to give up all its nuclear programs in exchange for food and energy aid, security guarantees, and an end to its diplomatic isolation. It is expected that Pyongyang will also make new demands in return for abandoning its nuclear programs altogether.