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Low-level Talks Begin on N. Korean Nuclear Programs - 2004-05-12

In Beijing, diplomats of six nations have begun low-level talks on North Korea's nuclear programs. Teams from China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, and the United States began talks behind closed doors Wednesday, aiming to set an agenda for the next round of high-level negotiations.

All sides are working to resolve a dispute over demands by the United States and other countries for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs. North Korea wants security and economic guarantees in exchange.

Yong-Sup Han, a professor of defense policy at the Korea National Defense University in Seoul, says the North Korean delegation will likely use this week's meeting to gauge whether there is room for compromise. "North Korea still hesitates to fully come to an agreement to resolve the issue fundamentally," he says. "They are exploring the U.S. position and other countries' positions. This could be an [exercise of] exploring other positions and testing the will to compromise."

In a statement carried by the North Korean government news agency Wednesday, Pyongyang says talks this week should center on North Korea's demands for a reward if it freezes its military nuclear projects. The communist nation has been struggling to recover from an economic collapse caused by natural disasters and mismanagement.

The United States this week reaffirmed its position that it will not reward North Korea for merely fulfilling its obligations under terms of nonproliferation agreements it signed in the past. Washington is demanding complete, irreversible and verifiable dismantling of North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.

The United States says there may be a bilateral meeting between its envoy to the talks and the chief of the North Korean delegation during this week.

The working level negotiations are expected to go for several days. Officials say they expect the next round of high-level negotiations to begin next month.