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Talks Over North Korean Nuclear Program End - 2003-04-25

The United States, North Korea and China have ended three days of talks in Beijing aimed at easing the dispute over Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program. Chinese officials say all three countries agreed to keep diplomatic channels open, although it does not appear the talks made any progress on defusing tensions.

Chinese officials say the negotiators agreed with a handshake Friday to continue diplomacy. However, U.S. diplomats in Beijing would not confirm the reports, and would not give any details about the results of the meetings.

U.S. States Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly and North Korea's representative, Li Gun, each met separately with China's foreign minister Friday morning. The delegates from all three countries also met together briefly before wrapping up the three days of talks, which were the first formal contact between Washington and Pyongyang since the nuclear dispute flared up in October.

An official North Korean statement says Pyongyang's delegates offered "a new bold proposal" to help resolve the issue. It does not say what the proposal is. The statement accuses the United States of avoiding what it called "the essential issues to be discussed between both sides."

The North Korean statement did not mention that U.S. officials reported that Mr. Li admitted Pyongyang has nuclear weapons.

President Bush Thursday accused North Korea of attempting to blackmail the United States.

China is describing the talks in positive terms. A spokesman for Beijing's Foreign Ministry says all three parties agreed the talks were a "good beginning." He says the negotiators agreed to study each other's positions and continue their work through diplomatic channels.

Japan, however, is expressing alarm at North Korea's weapons program. Japanese officials say Mr. Kelly has told them about Mr. Li's admission.

Yoriko Kawaguchi, Japan's foreign minister, said it is unacceptable for North Korea to have nuclear weapons. She says Japan wants to see the issue solved peacefully so it will continue to talk with North Korea.

The United States says Pyongyang admitted last October it has been developing nuclear weapons in secret. Since then, North Korea has pulled out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, restarted idled nuclear facilities, and issued a stream of belligerent rhetoric.

Pyongyang says it will only address the nuclear issue after Washington signs a nonaggression pact. The United States refuses to do so, although it says it has no plans to attack the North. Washington also says Pyongyang must abandon its nuclear ambitions before other issues can be discussed.

Mr. Kelly is consulting with South Korea and Japan over the next few days before returning to the United States.