'Intensive' bilateral talks held

By Le Tian (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-12-22 07:40

Top US envoy for the six-party talks Christopher Hill (L) speaks to media in Beijing December 21, 2006. Six-party talks on scrapping North Korea's nuclear weapons were set to gain momentum on Thursday after the chief US negotiator raised guarded hopes of agreement by week's end on preliminary steps towards that goal. [Reuters]

The Six-Party Talks on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula have entered a stage of "earnest, candid and pragmatic discussion on substantial issues," the Foreign Ministry said yesterday amid indications that the latest round would end today.

"All parties hope to continue to make concerted efforts to press ahead," ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a regular news briefing.

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Qin's remarks came amid hopes for a breakthrough in the multilateral negotiations, which involve host China, the United States, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), the Republic of Korea (ROK), Russia and Japan.

Negotiators held "intensive" bilateral consultations at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing yesterday, the Chinese delegation's spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, told reporters.

They were seeking specific actions to implement a September 2005 joint statement, in which the DPRK committed to abandon its nuclear programme in exchange for economic aid and security guarantees.

However, it boycotted the talks two months later in protest against US financial sanctions.

The top US negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, said last night that his delegation would hold another one-on-one meeting with the DPRK before the current round of talks ends today.

The two sides met again yesterday to try to narrow their differences, the third direct contact between the two main protagonists in the talks, which opened on Monday after a 13-month hiatus.

Yesterday's discussion between the two sides appeared to focus on a new set of what many believe were improved incentives for the DPRK to give up its nuclear programme.

Ahead of yesterday's talks, Hill called on the DPRK not to let the financial issue divert the negotiations. "I'd rather not obscure that urgent problem (of denuclearization) by talking about finances," he said.

However, the Japanese chief negotiator Kenichiro Sasae told reporters later yesterday the talks "are in an extremely difficult situation" due to the DPRK's insistence on the US taking the first step and lifting financial sanctions.

"The situation is extremely difficult, and there is no prospect of a breakthrough," said Sasae, director general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau.

"The biggest reason for the difficulty is that there is no sign of flexibility" on the part of the DPRK over the financial restrictions, he said.

Liu Jiangyong, a professor of international relations at Tsinghua University, said a document like a joint statement or communiqu could be released at the end of the current round to pave the way for the next round of talks.

"The frequent bilateral contacts between the US and the DPRK during this phase of the talks show Washington has changed its tone in dealing with the DPRK's nuclear programme," Liu told China Daily.

"The Bush administration wants a Christmas gift, particularly considering the pressure of domestic politics, so it might make some concessions during the give-and-take process."

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