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Diplomats Still Seek Common Ground in N. Korea Nuclear Talks

Diplomats at the multilateral talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons programs are trying to cobble together a preliminary statement of "agreed principles" on the fifth day of negotiations. The participants are not predicting rapid progress, despite new signs of cooperation.

The head of the U.S. delegation to the six-party talks, Christopher Hill, says the negotiations have entered a "new phase," but he warned that difficulties lie ahead.

The U.S. and North Korean delegates met Saturday morning for the sixth time this week, trying to iron out differences in their approaches to achieving a "nuclear-free Korean Peninsula."

Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, reported that the Chinese delegation offered a proposed draft statement on Saturday. Delegates from China, the United States, North and South Korea, Japan and Russia began going over the draft, but Mr. Hill says formulating a final statement will take some time. "This is not going to be finished today or tomorrow, because, even though the text will be rather brief, it will be rather important, too," he said. "It's a very important negotiation."

The main stumbling block in drafting the document appears to be a definition of "denuclearization" on the Korean Peninsula. The main aim of the talks has been to persuade Pyongyang to dismantle its existing nuclear weapons programs and abandon any weapons it might have. But Pyongyang says it wants all nuclear weapons covered, referring possibly to any U.S. weapons that might be on South Korean soil.

Both Washington and Seoul deny there are any U.S. nuclear weapons in the South, but Pyongyang has indicated it might be referring to the so-called U.S. "nuclear umbrella" that protects both South Korea and Japan.

Mr. Hill said Friday that there has been a meeting of the minds on some subjects, but he did not provide any details.

He said another point of disagreement was the timing of projected steps toward the disarmament process - whether North Korea dismantles its nuclear programs first, as Washington wants, or whether the concessions that Pyongyang is demanding from the United States and the other nations are given first. "Then you get into the question of how that's going to be sequenced, with obligations from the other parties," explained Mr. Hill, "and then it gets more complicated."

Mr. Hill says the U.S. side will continue talking for as long as it takes to achieve results. Unlike previous rounds of talks, the delegates say the discussions this time have moved from generalities to specifics, raising hopes for some kind of real progress.