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No Firm Agreement Reached as North Korea Nuclear Talks End - 2004-02-28

Talks hosted by China on North Korea's nuclear program have wrapped up with no concrete agreement, and North Korea says no progress was made. However, a senior U.S. official says the four-day dialogue among six nations exceeded Washington's expectations in the effort to end the nuclear dispute.

The U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he believes the talks were successful in moving ahead toward the goal of convincing North Korea to "completely, verifiably and irreversibly" dismantle its nuclear weapons programs. He said that goal was essentially accepted by all participants, other than North Korea itself.

Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Wang Yi briefed reporters following the conclusion of the talks.

Mr. Wang says the parties have unanimously agreed to continue the process of the peace talks. He says the delegates have agreed to a third round of six-party talks by the end of June.

Mr. Wang also announced the creation of low-level working groups that would address verification and other issues. An expected joint communiqué failed to materialize, however, because North Korea disagreed at the last minute with some of the proposed wording.

Speaking to reporters after the close of negotiations, the chief North Korean delegate, Kim Gye Gwan, accused the United States of undermining the negotiations.

Mr. Kim says that because of the U.S. attitude, the talks did not produce a substantial and positive result.

He also denied that North Korea has a uranium-enrichment program. It was the admission that Pyongyang did have such a program that touched off the crisis starting in late 2002.

The negotiations brought together representatives of China, Japan, Russia, North and South Korea and the United States.

It was the second time in a year that the six nations gathered in Beijing in an effort to break the nuclear stalemate. The first meeting, in August, ended inconclusively. Analysts say that does not appear to be the case this time, despite the lack of a concrete agreement.

Professor Shen Ding Li, deputy director of the Center for American studies at Shanghai's Fudan University, says that by agreeing to establish working groups and continue the dialogue, all sides have come away with more than they had when they arrived.

"To meet [again] provides them another opportunity to resolve the problem, even though they could not resolve the problem this time. They had a choice to never meet again to resolve the problem," he said.

North Korea has said it is developing a nuclear deterrent to defend itself from a possible U.S. attack. Pyongyang proposes freezing its nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees and economic aid.

Washington is demanding a complete dismantling of North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.