China sees no deadline for North Korea talks

Updated: 2006-12-12 21:41

BEIJING - The next round of six-party talks could make concrete progress toward persuading North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons, China said on Tuesday, but set no deadline for the long-running negotiations.

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Talks will resume on December 18 after more than a year's suspension, China announced on Monday.

"I'm not a fortune teller. I can't predict the progress of the talks," Qin Gang, a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry, told a regular news briefing in Beijing.

"We hope that the talks can achieve results. We hope the six-party talks are able to substantially advance the goal of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula."

Qin said the talks would focus on how to implement a joint statement from September last year "in a comprehensive and balanced way," adding that negotiators faced no deadline to reach an agreement. The meeting would be flexible, allowing for two-way and multilateral discussions between the countries, he said.

"Whether it's in the meeting or on the sidelines, or even in the toilet, all sides can engage in exchanges," he said.

Asked by reporters about China's expectations for progress in this session of talks, Qin said: "That depends on what type of effort the six parties make."

The on-off talks between the Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and host China stalled late last year over Pyongyang's objections to U.S. financial penalties. Washington said North Korea was counterfeiting U.S. currency and trafficking drugs.

The fresh diplomatic push comes two months after North Korea tested a nuclear device on October 9, stirring a wave of international condemnation that brought even its long-time supporter, China, behind U.N. Security Council sanctions.

Pyongyang later agreed to return to the six-party talks, but it has taken weeks of diplomatic shuttling to agree on a date.

The six teams of negotiators will be seeking to flesh out a joint declaration signed by all sides in September 2005, over two years after the six-party talks first met.

Under that vague deal, North Korea agreed to "abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs" in return for aid and security guarantees from the United States and other countries.

Washington's top negotiator on North Korea, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, may hold discussions with other envoys before formal meetings begin, the State Department said on Monday. Qin said he did not know when the delegations would arrive in Beijing.

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