North Korea must end N-plan: US
* Pyongyang hopes talks will narrow gap with Washington
* China sees some consensus at 6-party dialogue
BEIJING: US and North Korean envoys staked out widely divergent positions at six-party talks on the crisis over the North’s nuclear arms programmes on Wednesday.
But host China said there had been some consensus among the participants by the end of the day, although differences remained. One Chinese official described the atmosphere of the talks as pragmatic, sincere and frank.
The United States and the North, the two protagonists in the 16-month-old impasse, held an hour of informal talks in the afternoon. It was not clear if this covered both Pyongyang’s declared plutonium programme and the suspected uranium enrichment that it denies. After half a year of shuttle diplomacy, delegates from the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan kicked off the talks with a group handshake before taking their places at a hexagonal table in a state guest house for the second such meeting brokered by China.
US Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly insisted on the irreversible, verifiable dismantling of all North Korea’s atomic arms programmes, but said Washington did not intend to attack the country it branded part of an “axis of evil” with Iran and pre-war Iraq. Asked if there had been any agreement after the first day of talks, Kelly said: “Oh no, we are still hard at work.”
North Korea said it hoped the talks would create “a positive result” and narrow the gap with Washington, breaking the impasse.
The informal US-North Korean meeting offered one opportunity for progress. In August, Kelly and his North Korean counterpart had a similar discussion with on a sofa in the main meeting room with no breakthrough. Many analysts see little hope of substantive progress at the first talks since an inconclusive round last August because of deep mistrust between the United States and North Korea, and disagreement over the suspected uranium enrichment programme. North Korea’s negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Gye-gwan, eschewed the North’s traditional anti-US rhetoric, although a day earlier the Foreign Ministry warned the United States not to accuse it of pursuing a uranium weapons programme.
He said he was confident the political would that brought the parties together for another round of talks “would serve as a basis for narrowing down the existing differences of position and opinions between the DPRK and the United States and break the current impasse”. After the session, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said: “Although differences exist, there is also some consensus. “The six parties agreed that they would take coordinated steps to solve the nuclear question. They also believe that adopting actions is the best way to build confidence.”
The United States has insisted Pyongyang dismantle programmes that may have already produced two nuclear bombs. North Korea gave a little ground in December, saying it could freeze its programme in return for compensation. The Bush administration, facing an election this year, says it will not reward the country for its bad behaviour.
The nuclear crisis erupted in October 2002 when US officials said North Korea admitted to a covert programme to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. The North has since denied such a scheme.
However, it warned on Tuesday that any attempt to raise the “purely fictitious” uranium issue would only prolong the crisis. US officials and arms control experts say it would be meaningless to exclude the uranium programme from efforts to disarm North Korea because, unlike the reactor-centred production of plutonium at Yongbyon, uranium enrichment can be hidden.
In a move to reassure Pyongyang, which has demanded security guarantees from the United States in the form of a non-aggression pact, Kelly said North Korea had no need for concern. —Reuters