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Korean Nuke Talks End Without Deadline But Skeletons Remain

Top US nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill listens to a question as he addresses reporters in Beijing, 18 July 2007. Hill said that six-nation talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programmes were "positive" but a lot of hard work was still required.

US envoy says consensus reached at NKorea nuclear talks
Beijing (AFP) July 19 - All six nations involved in North Korean nuclear talks have agreed on a timeframe for a crucial second disarmament phase, the US envoy said Thursday on the second and final day of discussions. "I think there was a consensus among the six as to the target timeframe for completing these tasks," Christopher Hill told reporters when asked about the previous day's talks. The South Korean envoy, Chun Yung-Woo, said on Wednesday that North Korea had agreed to make a complete declaration of all its nuclear facilities and disarm them by the end of the year.

Hill on Wednesday night and Thursday morning refused to be so specific when asked about Chun's comments, but he described the talks as positive. He said he expected the consensus to be "reflected" in a statement from China at the end of the talks on Thursday afternoon. The chief envoys from the six nations went into a group meeting shortly after 10:00 am (0200) GMT. Hill also said that the United States may be prepared to give more aid to North Korea as a reward for moving forward on disarmament.

"We will look at a lot of things... We are very concerned about the plight of North Korean people and we would like to see what could be done," he said.

by Hiroshi Hiyama and Jun Kwanwoo
Beijing (AFP) July 19, 2007
Current talks on North Korean disarmament will end without a crucial deadline for the hermit nation to declare and close all its nuclear facilities, US chief envoy Christopher Hill said Thursday. But the US envoy remained confident over the "clarity" of the tasks ahead and said a deadline could be set at the next round of six party talks on denuclearising North Korea, possibly as early as late August.

"We thought we should have working groups meet and have pretty clear ideas of how the sequencing of fuel oil will go and how the declaration and (the nuclear) disablement will go before actually putting in the overall deadline," Hill said of an ongoing denuclearisation deal.

In Friday's closing session, the six-nations involved are expected to agree to a joint statement that will spell out details of the working-level discussions on disabling North Korea's nuclear facilities in exchange for 950,000 tonnes of fuel oil or equivalent aid and diplomatic recognition.

"Of all the six party meetings that I have gone to, this was for me the best meeting because everyone was very much focused on the task ahead," Hill said of the talks hosted by China and also including the two Koreas, Japan and Russia.

"I am pleased with the clarity we got going forward in order to tackle the next phase."

The current round began Wednesday after North Korea closed its Yongbyon nuclear facilities over the weekend as part of initial steps agreed to in February.

Under the second phase of the accord, North Korea is required to declare all nuclear weapons programmes it has spent decades developing, and then disable them in return for economic, political and security incentives.

Working-level groups are expected to hammer out language on the precise terms of "disablement," on what North Korea's declaration should consist of and the meaning of "equivalent aid," Hill said.

The first day of the six-nation talks ended Wednesday on an optimistic note with South Korea reporting that the North had said it was willing to come clean on all its nuclear facilities and then close them this year.

South Korean envoy Chun Yung-Woo declined to repeat the ambitious timeline on Thursday, but he and other envoys remained cautiously optimistic after what they said were intense but professional talks.

"What we have achieved, is having enough exchanges of opinions about what will be agreed on," South Korean envoy Chun Yung-Woo told reporters.

"There is no special breakthrough nor an important agreement," he said of the draft statement circulated by China.

The United States had entered this week's talks calling for North Korea to "declare and disable" this year.

But many observers had been sceptical that such a timetable could be met, considering Pyongyang's history of stalling on the diplomatic front while continuing to pursue nuclear options.

The six-nation talks began in 2003 with the aim of convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions.

However, they failed to stop the communist state from conducting its first atomic weapons test in October last year, and it is widely believed that even while the talks were going on, plutonium was being produced at Yongbyon.

Nevertheless, Hill said late Wednesday that the first day of discussions had been "positive" and that he expected progress.

On Thursday he raised the prospect of the United States giving more aid to North Korea as a reward for moving forward on disarmament.

"We will look at a lot of things... We are very concerned about the plight of North Korean people and we would like to see what could be done," he said.

earlier related report
Nkorea says Japan focus on abductees could wreck nuke talks
Seoul (AFP) July 19, 2007 North Korea accused Japan Thursday of using the issue of abducted Japanese to try to wreck six-nation nuclear negotiations and acquire a pretext to develop its own nuclear weapons.

If Japan continues to refuse to help fund aid offered to the North in return for disarmament, "the nuclear issue on the peninsula will remain unsettled for an indefinite period..." the foreign ministry in Pyongyang said in a statement.

"Japan is now taking much pains to make even the six-party talks a scapegoat of the 'abduction issue'," said the statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

Japan is a member of the six-nation talks on scrapping the North's nuclear programme, which resumed this week in Beijing after Pyongyang shut down its plutonium-producing reactor last weekend.

The talks, also grouping the two Koreas, China, Russia and the United States, offer the North big aid shipments plus major diplomatic and security benefits in return for a permanent nuclear shutdown.

But Japan refuses to help fund the aid until the North accounts for Japanese citizens whom Tokyo says are still being held in the communist state.

North Korea admitted in 2002 it kidnapped 13 Japanese civilians in the 1970s and 1980s to train its spies. It returned five abductees and their families and says the other eight died.

But Japan believes more of the victims are still alive and says the North may even be holding extra people who went missing.

The North's foreign ministry gave its version of the affair in a 1,600-word statement.

"The (Prime Minister Shinzo) Abe regime is working hard to keep the 'abduction issue' debated in a bid to use it for the purpose of stepping up the rearmament of Japan," the statement said.

It said Abe and other ultra-nationalists believed that when "it succeeds in torpedoing the six-party talks in a bid to deter the nuclear issue on the Korean peninsula from being settled, it will be able to use the 'access to nukes by the DPRK (North Korea) in hostile relationship with Japan' as a pretext for preserving the justification for its militarisation and nuclear armament."

Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Aso last November reiterated the government's view that Japan has the right to nuclear weapons despite its pacifist post-war constitution.

The North's commentary came at a time when the six-nation talks appeared to be making progress. On Thursday the Japanese and North Korean nuclear envoys held a rare bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the main talks.

"We have agreed that we both will make efforts toward resolutions of problems, though we both recognise that there are problems in six-party talks and our bilateral relations," Japan's Kenichiro Sasae said afterwards.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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North Korea Willing To Disable All Nuke Programs
Beijing (AFP) Jul 19, 2007
North Korea is willing to disable all its nuclear facilities this year, a top negotiator said Wednesday, just hours after UN experts confirmed that Pyongyang had shut down its main reactor complex. The developments raised hopes that an international deal to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programmes in exchange for aid was bearing fruit after years of on-again, off-again talks.

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