The chief U.S envoy to six-nation talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear weapons capabilities says negotiators are close to a deal. He says several small issues must be resolved before North Korea can begin the process of dismantling its nuclear programs. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Beijing.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said Friday, negotiators are just a few sticking points away from agreeing on a set of first steps toward eliminating North Korea's nuclear weapons.
"One or two issues, really... not broad issues, and frankly, not fundamental issues... It's hard to think that these issues would hold it up. It's hard to think that they would be dealbreakers, but we have to see," he said.
Hill is the chief U.S. delegate to six-nation talks here in Beijing aimed at ending Pyongyang's nuclear capabilities. China, South Korea, Japan and Russia are the other parties to the talks, first held more than three years ago, aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons in exchange for economic aid and diplomatic benefits.
Hill met one-on-one with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Kye Kwan, for a two-hour luncheon to discuss a draft agreement put forward by the Chinese hosts.
Although delegates from the six nations will not reveal the specific contents of the draft, Hill says it involves actions to be taken within weeks to begin implementing a September 2005 promise North Korea made to begin dismantling its nuclear programs.
North Korea boycotted talks aimed at implementing that pledge for more than a year after the United States imposed sanctions Washington says were intended to protect U.S. financial interests from North Korean money laundering and counterfeiting. North Korea returned to the six-party table in December, only after conducting its first nuclear weapons test, and only on the premise the financial issue be "discussed and resolved" at the negotiations.
Hill suggested Friday that separate talks between U.S. Treasury officials and North Korean envoys have provided the North with reassurance that the financial issue can be resolved.
"We have an approach for how to deal with that... let me just say, I don't think that's what's holding us up," he said.
Experts have widely predicted the United States will at least partially lift the financial sanctions, in exchange for concrete steps toward halting or dismantling nuclear materials production by North Korea.
Hill says North Korea, known officially as the DPRK, appears to have given its delegates more latitude to negotiate at this session than at the last one in December. He says Pyongyang may be coming to a conclusion internally that having nuclear weapons is not in its interest after all.
"These weapons have done more to isolate, and endanger, and impoverish the DPRK than they will ever do to protect the DPRK. And, I think, there are a lot of people there who understand that," he said.
More six-party meetings are scheduled through the weekend. Delegates say, if the talks proceed smoothly, this session may conclude by early next week.