July 31, 2005

Envoys clash as Korea nuclear talks seek consensus

By Teruaki Ueno and Jack Kim

BEIJING (Reuters) - Negotiators at six-party talks on North
Korea's nuclear programs clashed on Sunday as they tried to
draw up a joint statement of principles that has eluded them
for nearly three years.

No one believed the document would contain ground-breaking
commitments, but even outlining the basics was proving elusive.

"The deputy chief delegates had discussions for more than
five hours. They had fierce exchanges," said Japan's deputy
chief negotiator, Akitaka Saiki.

The tortuous talks, now into their sixth day, looked set to
drag on in Beijing.

Despite an unprecedented flurry of one-to-one meetings, the
main protagonists, Washington and Pyongyang, still appeared far
apart on the critical issue of how and when the North's nuclear
weapons programs should be dismantled.

Chief negotiators from the two Koreas, China, the United
States, Russia and Japan left it to deputies to haggle over the
text of the draft statement put forward by China, with the aim
of producing a joint document that all parties could sign.

U.S. chief negotiator Christopher Hill told reporters:
"It's a very lengthy, difficult process."

The Chinese draft paper calls on Pyongyang to abandon its
"nuclear weapons program and related programs," a diplomatic
source close to the talks told Reuters.

In return, the paper calls on the other five countries to
provide "security guarantees" and economic aid and to normalize
or improve ties with Pyongyang, the source said.

But the draft does not say who should move first or if the
parties should move simultaneously, avoiding the issue of
timing that is the essence of Pyongyang's disagreement with

Having any statement at all agreed by the six parties would
mark a breakthrough for the Beijing talks, where past progress
has been measured by whether they could agree even to
reconvene. This round, the fourth since the crisis erupted in
2002, is open-ended.


North Korean state media quoted Foreign Minister Paek
Nam-sun on Sunday as saying the North would be willing to
rejoin the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and accept
international inspections if the standoff were resolved to its

He set out several conditions for such a resolution,
including North Korea's removal from the U.S. list of state
sponsors of terrorism, lifting all sanctions against it and
removing U.S. nuclear weapons from South Korea -- weapons
Washington says it no longer keeps there.

Other recent North Korean demands have included American
diplomatic recognition and conclusion of a bilateral peace
treaty, half a century after the two sides fought each other to
a standstill in the Korean War.

Japan, meanwhile, wanted to include the issue of North
Korea's abduction of its nationals in the document, a move
analysts said could anger Pyongyang and torpedo any agreement.

The diplomatic source said the draft text contained no
mention of North Korean human rights issues or the abductions.

But everything turns on the debate over which steps should
come first.

North Korea wants the aid, security assurances and
diplomatic recognition and an end to U.S. hostility before
starting to dismantle its nuclear programs. The United States
wants it the other way round.

Washington also demands full and verifiable destruction of
Pyongyang's weapons programs, which intelligence sources say
have produced enough enriched plutonium for up to nine nuclear
bombs, before any aid or guarantees materialize.

After a hiatus of more than a year, the atmosphere at this
round of talks has been far more positive, and marked by six
lengthy bilateral meetings in as many days between Washington
and Pyongyang. In the past such encounters were rare, brief and
adhered to pre-written scripts.

A diplomatic source said a breakthrough on the statement
could come on Monday. "But it may take longer," he warned.

(Additional reporting by Benjamin Kang Lim and Li Huan)