Beijing (AFP) Dec 21, 2006
Six-nation talks aimed at convincing North Korea to give up its nuclear arms were extended on Wednesday but delegates reported no major progress and signalled a breakthrough was highly unlikely. The main round of six-party talks was slated to wrap up on Thursday, but the delegates agreed to stay for at least one extra day to try and find some common ground, South Korean envoy Chun Yung-Woo said, revealing a previously undisclosed time frame.
However, two days of bilateral talks on the sticking point of financial sanctions between the US and North Korea, on the sidelines of the main talks, ended without a clear resolution, with American officials suggesting a meeting in New York next month.
At the end of talks, the top US envoy said he met informally with his North Korean counterpart, but confirmed no firm agreements had yet been reached.
Speaking at the end of discussions late Wednesday, US top negotiator Christopher Hill said: "I had a couple of informal meetings with the DPRK and I also talked with Kim Kye-Gwan", his North Korean counterpart.
Hill said some progress had been made since Monday, but added nothing had been put forward to convince North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.
"I think the discussions have been very useful in the last day, day and a half," he said.
"Whether we are very successful at the end of the week, I think time will tell. Certainly we are talking about much more than things on paper, we are discussing actual developments on the ground."
The six-party talks are aimed at convincing the North to give up its nuclear arms in return for security guarantees, energy aid and a possible future nuclear power plant, a deal that was suspended 13 months ago after North Korean anger at US financial sanctions.
Although he would not be drawn on a time frame, Hill said the old deal could be reimplemented in "a lot shorter than a year".
He also hinted that China was preparing for a possible final statement, but gave no indication of what form such a statement might take.
Earlier, the chief Japanese negotiator, Kenichiro Sasae, indicated there was little hope of any significant agreements being reached at this round of talks, which involve the two Koreas, host China, the United States, Russia and Japan.
"At this point we still have a wide gap at the very basic level ... there is still disagreement at the basic level," Sasae told reporters at the end of the day's talks.
One of the main stumbling blocks has been North Korea's insistence that it would not consider abandoning its nuclear weapons until US financial sanctions imposed on it for alleged money laundering and counterfeiting were lifted.
The sanctions are thought to impinge on the country's ruling elite.
Daniel Glaser, the US Treasury Department deputy assistant secretary, told reporters: "We discussed the possibility of meeting next month in New York."
"For this process moving forward to be productive and useful, it is going to have to start focusing very, very closely on the underlying concerns of illicit finances that really underlie the international financial community's concerns," Glaser told reporters after the five-hour side-meeting ended.
Earlier, Hill said he had made some proposals to North Korean negotiator Kim Kye-Gwan during their one-on-one meeting on Tuesday, but reported no breakthrough.
While Hill did not go into specifics about what he had put forward, South Korean reports said the US offered security guarantees, aid and other incentives to Pyongyang to tempt it into disarming.
Many observers saw North Korea's withdrawal from talks last year as a stalling tactic, especially after the secretive nation stunned the world with its first-ever atomic test on October 9.
North Korea's Kim unveiled a long list of other demands on Monday that must be fulfilled before it would consider giving up its nuclear weapons, including a lifting of United Nations sanctions imposed after North Korea's atomic test.
Kim further demanded that North Korea be given help in building a nuclear reactor for power needs, and that the US policy of "hostility" towards it must be dropped.
earlier related report
North Korea closed all official dialogue channels with South Korea after Seoul suspended regular aid shipments to its impoverished neighbour in July to protest the North's missile tests that month.
Three North Korean officials also withdrew from the Inter-Korean Economic Cooperation Promotion Committee at an industrial estate in the North's border town of Kaesong.
The committee had arranged economic cooperation talks between the two countries.
"The three returned to the committee in Kaesong on December 11," a unification ministry official told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding there were hopes broader talks might also resume.
Kaesong, along with the North's Mount Kumgang tourist resort, is financed by the South.
Critics have demanded Seoul drop the two projects, insisting they may be helping to finance the North's weaponry, but South Korea insisted they should stay.
The two projects have raised 950 million dollars for the North since Mount Kumgang opened in 1998.
The two Koreas have taken a series of peace initiatives since their leaders held a historic summit in 2000. But they have remained technically at war since the 1950-1953 conflict.
earlier related report
"This is clear proof that it is seeking to vanquish the DPRK with a military strong arm, whetting its sword of aggression under the mask of dialogue."
The article, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, took exception to a plan known as Conplan 5029.
The Washington Post in October reported that the plan was drawn up by the US and South Korea following North Korea's nuclear test earlier that month.
It said Conplan 5029 focuses on preemptive action to thwart North Korean moves involving potential export of weapons of mass destruction.
It would be the first joint US-South Korean plan to take action against North Korea even if the North does not invade or attack the South first, the Post said.
"Watching the acts of the US bellicose forces framing war plots against the DPRK behind the scene while holding dialogue under the public eyes, the DPRK is getting further convinced that the United States is a dangerous one," the North's commentary said, without specifially referring to the six-nation talks.
The talks, which resumed Monday after a 13-month break, aim to persuade the North to abandon its nuclear programmes in return for economic benefits and security guarantees.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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Korea Truce Village At Peace
Panmunjom, South Korea (UPI) Dec 20, 2006
Just an hour's drive north of Seoul takes you to the world's most heavily fortified Cold War frontier, where South Korean soldiers face off against North Korean troops. Standing only several paces apart, guards from both sides stare each other down across the military demarcation line that runs through this border village of Panmunjom, where a three-inch-high white stone divider separates the rival Koreas.
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