Beijing (AFP) Feb 07, 2007
North Korea will not give up its nuclear arms anytime soon, the chief US envoy to six-nation talks on Pyongyang's atomic programme said here Wednesday as he arrived for another round of negotiations. US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill reiterated that he was only hoping to make a start in convincing North Korea to recommit to a September 2005 deal in which it said it would give up its nuclear arms.
"I want to emphasise the real success will be when we complete the September '05 agreement -- not just when we start (implementing) the '05 agreement, but when we finish it," Hill told reporters at Beijing airport.
"We are not going to finish that this week. Maybe this will be a good first step," Hill said. "We will see how it goes."
The search for a "first step" comes as the on-again, off-again talks -- involving host China, the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia -- approach their fourth year with little sign of progress.
The talks failed to prevent North Korea from conducting its first atomic test in October last year, and the United States has since engaged in unusually direct diplomacy with the Stalinist nation to convince it to disarm.
Rare one-on-one talks between Hill and the North Korean envoy to the talks, Kim Kye-Gwan, in Berlin last month set the stage for the new round of six-party negotiations.
The talks are scheduled to start in the Chinese capital mid-afternoon on Thursday.
The Russian, Japanese and South Korean envoys also arrived, or were due to land, in Beijing on Wednesday, with Kim expected to fly in on Thursday morning.
"North Korea should be ready to demonstrate its willingness to denuclearise with actions and should not make unreasonable demands," South Korean chief envoy Chun Yung-Woo told reporters on arrival in the Chinese capital.
"The six-party talks are once again at a moment of truth," he said.
Japan's negotiator Kenichiro Sasae conveyed the same sense of a negotiating process reaching a crucial moment where results were needed.
"I believe the six-party talks are at a watershed in this round. What's important is that we take concrete steps towards denuclearisation of North Korea," Sasae told journalists in Beijing.
Under the 2005 agreement, North Korea would abandon its nuclear weapons programme in return for security guarantees, energy benefits and other aid.
But it walked out of the talks two months later in protest at unrelated sanctions imposed on it by the United States for alleged money laundering and counterfeiting.
Although the North agreed to another round of six-nation talks in December last year under international pressure following its atomic test, it has continued to insist that no progress will be made until the sanctions are lifted.
The United States has also remained firm on the sanctions. But Hill said in the lead up to this week's talks that Washington may be prepared to offer economic incentives to begin the process of North Korea disarming.
earlier related report
Richard Lawless, deputy US defence undersecretary for Asia and Pacific affairs, and his South Korean counterpart Jeon Jei-Guk were meeting for two days of Security Policy Initiative (SPI) talks.
"At the SPI talks, the two sides will discuss key pending issues including the transfer of wartime operational control and the relocation of bases," a South Korean defence ministry spokesman said.
The top US commander in South Korea vowed last month to fight any delay in the base relocation plan. General B.B. Bell said his troops had to endure "lousy" living conditions in their current quarters.
South Korea's defence ministry said in December it would not be able to complete the relocation by 2008 as scheduled, but gave no new date. It attributed the delay to protests by residents whose lands had been taken over, and to a dispute over how the cost of relocation was shared.
Some 29,500 US troops are stationed here to help 680,000 South Korean forces face up to North Korea's 1.1-million-strong military.
As part of a global realignment, the US forces want to consolidate 35 bases across the nation into two hub bases by 2008 -- one at Pyeongtaek, 70 kilometres (45 miles) south of Seoul, and the other at Daegu, 300 kilometres southeast of the capital.
The Camp Humphreys base at Pyeongtaek is due to triple in size and become the US military's chief installation.
The huge Yongsan base in central Seoul, at the centre of much of the delay, is among those scheduled to close.
The two sides are also discussing the transfer of wartime operational control over both US and South Korean forces, which is currently in American hands.
Seoul plans to regain wartime control over its forces by 2012, citing national pride and the new US military global strategy. The US has proposed an even earlier date of 2009.
The two Koreas have remained technically at war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice with no follow-up peace treaty. Raising tensions, North Korea conducted a nuclear test on October 9 last year.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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