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Quick Results Not Expected in N. Korean Talks - 2004-02-24

Delegates preparing for six-way talks on North Korea's nuclear programs say they are optimistic that progress will be made toward resolving the dispute. But no one at the site of Wednesday's negotiations is expecting rapid or concrete results from this round. North Korea's Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Gwe Gwan sounded upbeat as he left Pyongyang for Wednesday's talks. The Chinese news agency, Xinhua, quotes Mr. Kim as saying he is hoping for good results at the meeting, which brings together delegates from China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States.

Mr. Kim says circumstances at this round of negotiations are better than they were at the first, inconclusive round of talks last August.

The aim of these negotiations is to resolve an 18-month dispute in which the United States and North Korea's neighbors demand that Pyongyang verifiably dismantle its nuclear weapons programs. North Korea has insisted on getting security guarantees first, before it considers abandoning its nuclear ambitions.

Leonard Spector is the deputy director of Monterey Institute Center for Nonproliferation Studies in the United States. He says the stakes are higher than ever for North Korea and its devastated economy. "Nobody is expecting a sudden turnaround here. But there is a bargain to be struck," he says. "The future of North Korea depends on its economic integration and its political integration."

Chinese officials on Tuesday hinted they do not expect concrete or immediate results from this second round. However, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue says China hopes a precedent will be set for future negotiations, meaning the talks may yield the creation of a permanent working group. Ms. Zhang says China hopes the negotiations will be continued as a mechanism that serves the interests of all parties concerned.

Following consultations with U.S. and Japanese negotiators, South Korean officials on Monday said they plan to present a multistage proposal. The plan includes North Korea's participation in a joint statement promising to dismantle its nuclear programs.

Despite the optimism expressed by arriving delegates, negotiators are going into the talks with doubts over North Korea's will to resolve the nuclear issue entirely.

The United States believes North Korea is developing a uranium-based weapons program in addition to the plutonium-based one that it has admitted having. Washington wants the North to own up to the uranium program. However, Pyongyang on Tuesday again denied that it has such a program.