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North Korean Talks End with Some Progress, Promise of More Discussions - 2004-06-26

Talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons development have concluded in Beijing. While major differences remain between Pyongyang and Washington, officials say some progress has been made. The six nations have agreed to meet for a fourth round of talks in September.

The third round ended Saturday with the host, China, saying serious differences remain between the United States and North Korea on a number of issues. Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi, the head of Beijing's delegation, addressed reporters at the conclusion of the talks.

"We are reminded that the nuclear issue is highly complicated. There is still a serious lack of mutual trust among the parties," he said.

However, Mr. Wang and other delegates said all sides agreed to continue discussions on first steps toward North Korea's eventual comprehensive denuclearization. The United States praised this consensus as an important step.

China says all sides have agreed in principle to a fourth round of high-level talks by the end of September. In the meantime, the participants, which also include Japan, South Korea and Russia, will study the proposals presented this week.

All six sides agreed to hold working-level meetings as soon as possible to discuss the details of North Korea's first steps toward dismantling of its nuclear weapons, as well as Pyongyang's demands, which include a request for massive energy aid from the United States and other participants.

In a statement read to reporters outside their embassy here, North Korean officials said they were willing not only to freeze their nuclear weapons development programs, but also to dismantle them, when their conditions are met.

The United States presented a detailed proposal at the talks, addressing North Korea's energy and security needs, allowing other nations to provide the North with heavy fuel oil and provisional security assurances. Washington would also begin the process of removing North Korea from its list of nations that sponsor terrorism.

In exchange, Washington wants Pyongyang to provide a full listing of its nuclear facilities, allow international monitoring, and disable dangerous materials during a preliminary three-month period.

Chinese delegation chief Wang Yi says one of the main remaining differences is the U.S. contention that North Korea is developing a uranium-enrichment program alongside its acknowledged plutonium program, an allegation Pyongyang has consistently denied in public.

"There is a serious difference between the two sides, with regard to the uranium enrichment program," he said. "We hope that this question, together with other issues, will be gradually clarified and resolved in future talks."

The four-day meeting followed two earlier rounds that ended inconclusively. The dispute flared in October 2002, when Washington said North Korea admitted having a uranium-based weapons program, in violation of a 1994 agreement with the United States.