Negotiators from six nations are preparing to meet in Beijing for talks on eliminating North Korea's nuclear programs. Discussions will focus on how to verify that Pyongyang is not hiding any nuclear materials or facilities. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.
After nine months on hold, negotiators from China, the United States, North and South Korea, Japan, and Russia will gather Thursday in Beijing for three days of talks.
Negotiations on steps to disarm nuclear North Korea were halted while Pyongyang prepared a declaration of its nuclear materials. It handed over the list last month, allowing talks to move forward.
China's lead negotiator in the talks, Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei, said Wednesday he is optimistic they will make progress.
He says with the joint efforts of all the parties, the tree of the six-party talks is growing healthily, with its roots deepening, branches thickening and it has become very fruitful. He says they are going to have a meeting among heads of delegations and he hopes they can make the overall arrangements on how to implement the agreement reached in the second phase of the talks.
In the second phase, currently underway, North Korea must declare all its nuclear materials and facilities and disable its main reactor. In return, it is to receive fuel aid and some sanctions against it will be lifted.
The chief U.S. negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, says confirming North Korea's nuclear declaration and the disabling will be the main focus of the talks.
"Verification is the most important thing. We want to speed up the rate of disablement. Obviously the cooling tower is done, but we need to discharge the reactor," he said. "We hope we can pick up the pace to do that, and there's some other elements of disablement that we'd like to move more quickly on."
North Korea says it will not take further steps until it has received more of the promised aid and political incentives.
Verifying the secretive government's nuclear disarmament will likely pose the biggest problem.
Although the authoritarian state agreed last year to give up its nuclear ambitions, Washington thinks North Korea has a secret uranium enrichment program, in addition to its declared plutonium one, as well as several nuclear bombs. Neither the uranium program nor the bombs were on Pyongyang's declaration.
Some North Korea political analysts say Pyongyang is not likely to turn over all its materials and will probably ask for more aid.
North Korea has for years relied on its nuclear build-up to squeeze aid from its neighbors and the United States.
The third and final phase of the agreement calls for Pyongyang to permanently dismantle all its nuclear facilities and hand over all nuclear materials.
In return, the U.S. would establish normal diplomatic relations with the North and a permanent peace treaty for the 1950s Korean War could be signed.