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US, North Korea Meet on Sidelines of 6-Party Talks

The United States and North Korea have held talks for the third time this week in a bid to find a way out of their dispute over the North's nuclear weapons programs. But the three-hour meeting on the sidelines of six-party nuclear talks yielded no breakthrough.

Following the meeting, the United States and North Korea agreed Thursday to continue bilateral negotiations to resolve their differences on how to end North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.

The top U.S. envoy to the talks, Christopher Hill says differences remain.

"We had a long discussion with them [North Koreans]," he said. "There's certainly some points of agreement, but there continues to be points of disagreements."

The two sides have been at odds over the process of any disarmament plan. U.S. officials say the North is concerned over "sequencing", meaning which country makes the first move and when.

But Alexander Alekseyev, head of the Russian delegation to the talks, told reporters Thursday nobody from either delegation had called Thursday's talks a failure.

"We got a feeling that is was a very difficult, concrete talk and maybe it was the first time both sides spoke so deeply for such a long time about, not generalities, but concrete problems," he said.

On Wednesday, North Korea reiterated its demands that the United States normalize relations, give security guarantees and withdraw nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula before it dismantles its nuclear programs.

The United States has consistently pushed for a verifiable and complete disarmament first, before giving any concessions. The United States and its ally, South Korea, also deny there are any nuclear weapons in the South.

Qin Gang, spokesman for the Chinese delegation to the talks, says the nuclear issue is complicated and that it is too early to say whether the talks are close to a breakthrough or a breakdown.

Mr. Qin says the process is moving forward in the right direction.

U.S. envoy to the talks, Christopher Hill, said Thursday he expects all parties to begin drafting a joint statement in the next 24 hours.

But Mr. Hill says this will not be a definitive statement.

"We had a lot of discussions with a lot of the delegations," added Mr. Hill. "We'd like to see if we can put some of these thoughts down on paper and see where we are."

Officials say the participants are trying to reach a consensus on "agreed principles", which includes a common definition of the concept of "denuclearization". They say the North Koreans appear to have a broader interpretation, which could touch on the South Korea-U.S. defense alliance.

Officials say the agreed principles could form the basis of a final settlement. But when this final settlement could be reached and in what form, is still uncertain.

The talks, which also involve South Korea and Japan, resumed Tuesday after a 13-month boycott by North Korea.