US Says: 'One Issue' Blocks North Korea Nuclear Talks Deal

The chief U.S. envoy to six-nation talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear weapons capability says delegates are going to keep working to resolve a single issue blocking a deal.  VOA's Kurt Achin has more from Beijing, where the talks are taking place.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said Saturday night, six-nation talks in Beijing are an unspecified "single issue" away from a joint agreement on steps toward ending North Korea's nuclear weapons capability.

"We're looking for some ways through this," he said.  "In my view, it's really worth staying with."

Hill is joined by counterparts from China, which has hosted the six-party process since 2003, as well as South Korea, Japan and Russia.  The five nations are trying to convince North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons for diplomatic and economic incentives.

North Korea agreed in principle to do that in September 2005, but implementation was delayed by Pyongyang's objection to U.S. financial sanctions targeting what Washington described as North Korean money laundering and counterfeiting.  Hill says the financial issue is no longer a sticking point.

The six nations are now seeking to agree on a proposal for concrete action steps proposed by China, something Hill says is much more specific than the September 2005 agreement.

"Unlike in a general set of principles, where there is room for different sides to try to interpret things differently, when you talk about implementation, you've really got to have a very precise notion of what it's going to look like," he added.

Hill says North Korea's "measurement" of the issue in question differs from that of the other five nations.  Experts speculate the issue involves energy compensation for Pyongyang, in exchange for a halt in nuclear materials production.

Failing to solve the issue this week, says Hill, could deal a blow to the six-party process itself.

"If we don't solve this, I think, it's sort of tough to reconvene the six parties.  So, we have to figure out a way through it," he noted.

Hill says patience is crucial in achieving a breakthrough.

"There's no magic in diplomacy," he said.  "I mean, whenever you pull a rabbit out of a hat, it's because you've spent a lot of time - boy, a lot of time - trying to stuff that rabbit down the hat."

The six-nation talks are scheduled to continue Sunday.  Delegates say they will probably conclude sometime early next week.

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