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Progress Reported in North Korea Nuclear Talks - 2004-06-25

China says a consensus was reached in Beijing this week on how the dismantling of North Korea's nuclear weapons projects should begin. The United States agrees that some progress was made, although no real breakthrough has yet occurred.

China says all sides this week agreed that a "freeze" of North Korea's weapons development would be the first step toward a full dismantling of its programs. Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue spoke to reporters after what diplomats said was the last day of "substantive negotiations."

"This round of talks already has reached some results: a fundamental political consensus exists that a nuclear freeze is the first step toward denuclearization and corresponding measures should be adopted," he said.

A senior U.S. official told reporters the United States regards Pyongyang's offer to freeze its programs as an important step. He said he felt that the six-party talks did make some progress, although he would not describe them as a breakthrough.

The United States and the other participants at this third round of talks presented their proposals for ending the nuclear dispute, and the talks are to conclude formally Saturday.

U.S. and other diplomats said they expected a fourth round of high-level negotiations in the not-too-distant future.

A senior U.S. official close to the negotiations clarified earlier reports that North Korea had "threatened" to conduct a nuclear test if the negotiations failed. The official said the chief North Korean delegate merely mentioned that some elements in North Korea would like to carry out a nuclear test. The U.S. official said he would not characterize the remark as a threat.

While U.S. and other diplomats say no major breakthroughs have been made at this round of negotiations, they say it was the first time all sides presented specific proposals.

In its proposal, the United States offered to address North Korea's energy needs and provide conditional security assurances in return for Pyongyang's commitment to provide a full listing of its nuclear activities and eventually to dismantle its programs.

North Korea's proposal calls for massive energy aid from participants in the talks, including the United States, in exchange for which it would freeze its weapons development.

Other participants in the talks, including Japan and South Korea, have already said they are willing to provide North Korea with economic and energy aid if it makes concessions on development programs.