U.S. officials said Thursday they expect the next round of six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program to last just a few days. Delegates to the Chinese-sponsored talks to resume November 9th will try to flesh out a statement of principles agreed on in September.
The last round of six-party talks ended in September with a general commitment by North Korea to give up its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security guarantees.
But U.S. officials say hammering out the details of such an arrangement will be difficult and something unlikely to be achieved at the next round, which is expected to last just a few days.
The Chinese government announced Thursday the negotiations, involving Russia, Japan and South Korea as well as the United States, North Korea and host China, will resume in Beijing November 9th.
However U.S. and Chinese diplomats say the session will be brief, since many participants are due in South Korea November 13th to prepare for the summit of APEC, the Asia-Pacific Cooperation forum, later that week.
At a news briefing State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the upcoming round will begin a discussion on how to move forward on the September statement of principles, and that the process will not be easy:
"I would expect that it will take some very tough negotiating. I think we've seen the tough negotiations getting us to this point. I expect that to continue. What we hope is that the North Korean government comes to the table ready to seriously follow-through on the commitments they made in the previous round, outlined in the statement of principles," he said.
The joint statement issued September 19 was the first agreement reached in the two-year bargaining process, but North Korea cooled hopes for an early breakthrough a day later when it demanded a light water power reactor as part of anticipated outside aid.
U.S. officials say provision of a reactor can be discussed only at the end of a disarmament process, and that in reality no one would be willing to put up the billions of dollars that such a plant would cost.
At the last round, South Korea said it was ready to meet Pyongyang's energy needs by connecting North Korea to its electricity grid.
Issues to be covered at the upcoming round include the sequencing of aid to North Korea and disarmament steps, as well as means for verifying that Pyongyang has given up its nuclear weapons program.
A senior official here said that while the meeting will likely last just a few days, that would change if North Korea arrived at the bargaining table with a disarmament plan acceptable to all the other governments.