The U.S. State Department said it expects a meeting in Beijing next week on ending North Korea's nuclear program to be difficult, but that no consideration is being given to scrapping the six-party talks. The senior U.S. delegate to the talks Friday ended a two day set of preparatory meetings in Singapore with his North Korean counterpart.
Officials at the U.S. State Department said the Chinese- sponsored meeting due to begin Monday will likely be no less difficult than previous meetings on the North Korean nuclear program. But they said even though China has yet to officially announce the meeting, they do expect the six-party session to go forward as planned.
All six heads of delegations to the long-running talks are to convene in Beijing to approve a verification plan for the declaration of its nuclear holdings and activities North Korea made last June.
Approval of a verification protocol is to open the way to the final phase of the intricate agreement reached last year, under which North Korea is to eventually scrap its nuclear program, including weapons, in return for energy aid and diplomatic benefits from the other parties.
The latest snag in the process involves whether disarmament inspectors can remove samples from North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear complex for outside analysis.
Chief U.S. delegate Christopher Hill said North Korea agreed to sampling, at least verbally, in talks in Pyongyang in July. The North Koreans later said they made no such commitment.
Hill, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs, met in Singapore with his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye-Gwan. Both said Friday they had extensive discussions on verification issues but did not indicate they had reached a final agreement.
At a news briefing here, Deputy State Department Spokesman Robert Wood said that would be the goal of the six-way meeting, which will include South Korea, Russia and Japan, along with the United States, North Korea and host China:
"Really where we are now is trying to get those understandings and assurances that the North Koreans provided Chris [Hill], in addition to those understandings on verification, to get all of this on paper and codified at the six-party heads of delegation meeting. So the negotiations on that will take place in Beijing and hopefully we will have a final verification protocol after that meeting," said Wood.
Both Wood and North Korean envoy Kim in Singapore said there was no reason why the Beijing meeting should not go forward, despite the lack of an official announcement.
Wood said Assistant Secretary Hill will go to Seoul on Saturday and then on to Beijing Sunday where he will consult with the Japanese, Chinese, South Korean and Russian envoys on the eve of the opening of the six-way meeting.
Their discussions will also cover a delivery schedule for heavy fuel oil committed to North Korea in return for the disablement of the Yongbyon reactor complex.
North Korea has slowed the disablement process, saying that nearly half the one million tons of fuel it has been promised has not been delivered.
Japan has refused to join other parties in providing oil, because it said Pyongyang has not fully accounted for Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea agents in the 1980's.