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US, N.Korea Might Have New Direct Contacts: US Negotiator

The United States has refused to negotiate directly with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program and has opted for a multilateral approach bringing in China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.

Washington (AFP) Aug 09, 2005
The United States might have new direct consultations with North Korea while six-party talks over Pyongyang's nuclear program are in recess, the US envoy to the negotiations said here Tuesday.

Christopher Hill said he expected a flurry of bilateral diplomacy among all the parties before the talks resume the week of August 29 in Beijing where they recessed Sunday after 13 grueling days.

"I can't speak yet to the contacts with the North Koreans although I imagine there will be some, but we haven't had them yet," a clearly exhausted Hill told reporters a day after returning to Washington.

"If there is value to direct contacts we would have them, just as we have been having them certainly since I've been around," said Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

The United States has refused to negotiate directly with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program and has opted for a multilateral approach bringing in China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.

But US and North Korean negotiators held nine bilateral meetings within the framework of the six-party discussions that resumed in Beijing on July 26 after a 13-month hiatus.

Before that, the United States, which has no diplomatic relations with North Korea, made occasional contact through Pyongyang's UN mission in what came to be called the "New York channel."

Asked whether the next consultations would be through the New York channel, Hill responded, "I don't know yet, we'll have to see what they would like to do."

The Beijing talks recessed without agreement on a statement of principles for denuclearizing the Korean peninsula. One major stumbling block was Pyongyang's insistence on retaining a civilian nuclear program.

Hill acknowledged the difficulty in responding to North Korea's request for light-water reactors for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

But he added, "I would not assume that every difference that emerged at the very end of the talks represents a serious difference or a deal-breaker type difference."

The veteran diplomat would not comment on chances that negotiators would reach an agreement when the talks resume.

"In Dayton (for the Bosnia peace talks) I always felt we would. In Rambouillet, the Kosovo negotiations, I always felt we wouldn't. In this one, I just don't know. I just don't know."

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