Negotiators at the multi-party North Korea nuclear disarmament talks in Beijing say the process has stalled. Both North Korea and the United States say the issue of Pyongyang's demands for two light-water nuclear reactors has blocked any progress.
Chief U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill put it bluntly at the end of the third day of negotiations, in which the United States tried to keep talks focused on the core issue - finalizing a joint statement of principles regarding North Korea's nuclear disarmament.
"I've got to be very frank with you tonight," said Christopher Hill. "There wasn't much progress today. I don't want to exaggerate. There wasn't any progress today."
Mr. Hill said North Korea's delegation refuses to discuss anything other than its insistence on a civilian nuclear program - a plan Washington opposes. He said the talks were "in a bit of a stalemate."
North Korea blamed the United States for the impasse. A delegation spokesman agreed the basic stumbling block was the issue of providing the North with light-water nuclear reactors.
Despite the impasse, U.S. officials said the talks would continue into a fourth day Friday.
Delegates of the other nations, which also include China, Russia, Japan and South Korea, also did not appear hopeful about the prospect of any progress at this round. Japanese and South Korean officials at the talks also said no headway had been made. The chief Japanese negotiator called the situation "bleak."
Under the terms of North Korea's 1994 agreement with Washington to freeze its nuclear programs, Pyongyang was promised two light water reactors. The North Korean spokesman said that following through with that promise now is fundamental for building trust.
The United States opposes any immediate plan to let North Korea engage in nuclear activities, because Pyongyang broke its promise under that same 1994 agreement to remain nuclear-free.
The deeply impoverished communist nation has said it needs the reactors to meet its severe energy needs. However, U.S. negotiator Hill notes that a plan is already on the table offering North Korea massive energy aid and economic assistance. He says his conversations with the North Korean delegation Thursday left him doubting whether energy is in fact the issue.
"One gets the impression that this is not so much an economic development issue, or an energy issue, but rather a political issue, and an issue relating to the idea that they want to have a sort of trophy project," he said. "I think it's fair to say we have a rather major disagreement at this point."
The current crisis flared in 2002 when the United States said North Korea had admitted to restarting its nuclear activities despite its pledge not to. Pyongyang has since said it possesses nuclear weapons - a claim many analysts say may be true. Three earlier rounds of multi-party talks since 2003 have failed to make any progress on Pyongyang's nuclear disarmament.