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US,  North Korean Officials Meet Privately on Sidelines of Nuclear Talks - 2004-06-24

U.S. and North Korean officials held a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of nuclear talks in Beijing. China, the host, is praising what it says is progress in the third round of six-way talks. But has yet to respond to a new U.S. proposal on ending the nuclear dispute.

Diplomats here in Beijing did not give details of what U.S. and North Korean officials discussed during their first face-to-face meeting in months.

The bilateral talks came a day after the United States presented a new proposal to get Pyongyang to scrap its nuclear weapons programs. The offer addresses North Korea's energy needs and gives Pyongyang a provisional security assurance.

China, the host of the six-way negotiations, on Thursday praised the U.S. plan, which Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue characterized as a move that will help break the deadlock.

"The U.S. plan has substantial content and the fact that it was offered shows the United States hopes to seek a settlement of this issue," she said.

Washington had previously ruled out discussing aid or other inducements until North Korea verifiably ended its nuclear programs. U.S. officials say they changed their position after other nations urged them to do so.

The talks, which also involve Japan, South Korea, and Russia, are due to continue through Saturday.

All six nations have presented their proposals and talks on Friday are expected to focus on studying the various offers. No details were available Thursday on the proposals presented by China and other participants.

Senior U.S. administration officials on Wednesday said their proposal would give North Korea three months to prepare for the eventual comprehensive dismantling of its nuclear programs. During that time, Washington would allow other nations to supply the North with much needed fuel oil. U.S. officials said they were also prepared to give diplomatic rewards, such as starting the process of lifting sanctions against Pyongyang. North Korea remains on a list of nations that the United States says support terrorism.

In exchange for its concessions, the United States wants North Korea to provide a full listing of its nuclear activities, allow monitoring of its atomic operations, and disable dangerous materials over the three-month period before actual dismantling begins.

North Korea has yet to respond to the U.S. proposal. Chinese officials hosting the talks indicated it would take time for any significant movement to occur. They described the U.S. proposal as "complex" and said it would require extensive study.

The negotiations are the third round in the effort to end the North Korean nuclear dispute. Two earlier rounds over the past 11 months were inconclusive.