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Delegates Report Some Progress at N. Korea Nuclear Talks - 2004-02-27


Six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear programs are set to go into a fourth day Saturday, after delegates reported some progress in their bid to settle the 18-month-old dispute. However, serious differences remain as all sides work to find a common ground.

Efforts going into the fourth day of talks focused on the forging of a possible joint communique - a difficult task considering the major differences that remained between North Korea and the United States at the end of the day Friday.

China, which is hosting the talks, is eager for success, and has been playing up what it characterizes as progress on all sides. On Friday, however, officials admitted that the talks were not going altogether smoothly.

Liu Jianchao, a member of the Chinese delegation, said gaps between the various parties are gradually narrowing. But, he said, it is still an "objective fact" that there are differences.

Wang Yi, the head of the Chinese delegation, was quoted by the Chinese Foreign Ministry as saying the talks had encountered "differences, difficulties and contradictions."

Neither North Korea nor the United States appeared to budge on its main position.

North Korea has offered to freeze its nuclear programs in exchange for economic compensation and security guarantees. The United States has remained firm in its demand for North Korea's "complete, verifiable and irreversible" dismantling of its nuclear programs before it will enter discussions on aid.

Some had expected the talks to wrap up on Friday. Word that negotiations would be extended through at least Saturday raised hopes among some observers, who said the extra time would give all sides more opportunity to work on resolving their differences.

However - much like during the first round of inconclusive talks in August - no one expects a concrete solution from these negotiations. Aside from a possible joint statement outlining common principles, analysts say what is likely to emerge is the creation of a mechanism for continuing negotiations on a regular basis.

Professor Xue Mouhong directs the Institute of International Studies at Beijing's Tsinghua University. He says establishing such a mechanism is an important first step toward resolving the crisis.

"In this conference, many problems have been patched and there have been deeper discussions," he said. "It's rather difficult to reach an agreement concretely in a conference. So, with a joint declaration, I think that's progress."

U.S. officials on Friday said they were prepared to stay at the talks as long as necessary.