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North Korea Nuclear Negotiators Break for Two-Day Recess

Envoys to the six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program have called a two-day recess in Beijing to consider a draft statement on Pyongyang's disarmament process.  The diplomats had hoped to release an official statement Sunday, but they say even without the document, they have made important progress this week.  VOA's Kate Woodsome has more from our Asia News Center in Hong Kong.

 Wu Dawei, China's envoy and host of the talks, says the draft statement will be kept private until the governments of North and South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia have time to consider and endorse it.

U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill says, even without the official statement, the envoys are largely in agreement about what steps North Korea must take next to uphold its commitment to an international nuclear disarmament deal.

"I'm pretty confident that we know what the next steps will be, and we have an understanding that will take us through to the end of the year with respect to disablement and declaration," Hill said.

North Korea agreed in principle last February to abandon its nuclear ambitions in exchange for political concessions and a million tons of much-needed fuel.  It has since closed its main nuclear facility at Yongbyon and received 50,000 tons of oil.

The five parties next want North Korea to fully declare its nuclear stock and disable its nuclear facilities by the end of December.  Hill has said Washington and Pyongyang are struggling to agree on the scope and definition of disarmament.

In 1994, North Korea agreed to shut down its nuclear facilities, but later restarted them.  This time, the United States wants North Korea to take apart its facilities in such a way that it would take at least 12 months to get them back up and running.

North Korea has not publicly said what it is willing to do.

It has taken four years to get North Korea to sit down - and stay - at the negotiating table.  The efforts gained urgency last October, after North Korea conducted its first nuclear test.

Despite the progress made over the past four days in Beijing, Japan said Sunday it would extend its economic sanctions on North Korea for another six months.  Japan's relations with North Korea have been particularly strained because of North Korea's abduction of Japanese citizens in the 1970's and 1980's.

The issue has tested Japan's commitment to the six-nation talks, but Japanese envoy Kenichiro Sasae said that, for now, Tokyo is willing to put global interests ahead of its own.

He said Sunday that all parties must make compromises to ensure North Korea disables its nuclear program.
Japan has asked South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun to raise the abductions issue during a rare summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang Tuesday.

During the visit, Mr. Roh is expected to push for peace and security on the divided Korean peninsula. South Korean officials said Sunday Mr. Roh will cross the two countries' border by walking into the demilitarized zone that divides them - a first for a South Korean leader.

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