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Working-Level Talks on N. Korea Nuclear Program to Start in Beijing - 2004-05-11

Diplomats from six nations are in Beijing preparing for working-level talks on North Korea's nuclear programs. The working-level discussions begin on Wednesday, with China hosting delegates from Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea and the United States.

Informal consultations began in Beijing Tuesday among the American, Japanese, Chinese, Russian and South Korean delegates.

Diplomats aim to set an agenda for the next set of high-level negotiations to end North Korea's nuclear weapons programs. The six countries have said they hope the next talks will be held before the end of June.

Two earlier rounds of talks ended inconclusively. Some analysts say the lack of a formal agenda was one reason they made little progress.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchiao on Tuesday cautioned all sides not too expect too much from the negotiations. He said this week's discussions are meant to lay only basic groundwork.

"We hope the various parties will have an in-depth exchange of views and put forth a reasonable solution to promote trust and reduce doubts in order to prepare for the next round of talks," he said.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher on Monday said members of the U.S. delegation might hold bilateral discussions with the North Korean delegation this week.

Mr. Boucher said the U.S. team hoped to "identify a little more" the steps that could be taken to get North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs. The dispute began more than 18 months ago, when Washington said Pyongyang had admitted to having a secret nuclear weapons project in violation of international agreements.

Washington wants North Korea to completely, verifiably and irreversibly dismantle its nuclear programs. Pyongyang has demanded economic and security guarantees before it commits to doing so.