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4th US-DPRK face-to-face meeting planned
Updated: 2005-07-29 10:10

The United States admitted that persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons drive was not proving easy and that key differences remain, but the two sides have agreed to meet again today, the AFP reported.

The chief delegates of the two major parties to the Six-Nation Talks in Beijing, met face-to-face for the third time on Thursday. While the atmosphere and rhetoric is better than previous encounters, neither side is budging from its uncompromising position, sources said.

"We had a lengthy discussion and I must say there are a number of differences," U.S. chief delegate Christopher Hill told reporters after a two-hour meeting with his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye-gwan. "On some points we have some common understanding on how to proceed. I must say, though, this is not an easy process."

The talks, which also include China, South Korea, Russia and Japan, are aiming to produce a joint statement setting out what has been achieved and where they go from here, but this has yet to be drafted.

Hill said he hoped the process could begin within 24 hours.

Unlike the previous three rounds, the latest negotiations have no fixed end-date, although Russia's chief delegate Alexander Alekseev said he planned to leave Beijing on Saturday.

The Russian news agency Interfax reported that Hill proposed to Kim that international inspectors enter the DPRK in September to check its nuclear facilities, but Hill denied this.

In December 2002, North Korea shut its door to the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors working in the country after the US accusation of running a uranium enrichment program, sparking the current showdown.

"The problem of verification is in my opinion one of the most important problems of the whole process," said Alekseev.

Host China said it was too early to say whether the negotiations had succeeded or failed, and admitted there were still major hurdles to clear.

"It's far too early to say if there is a breakthrough or a breakdown," said foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang of the bilateral talks between the United States and North Korea.

"There were difficulties but there is a willingness to continue talking. I think they are in the process of finding common ground and there are differences but what the common ground is, I'm not in a position to comment. There are many problems that need to be discussed ... and everyone needs to continue talking."
The United States and North Korea delegates are scheduled to meet one-on-one for a fourth time Friday, the US embassy said.

With little sign of movement, a meeting between all of the chief delegates was cancelled to allow the US-DPRK contact to go ahead. It has been rescheduled for Friday afternoon, South Korean officials said.

Pyongyang refuses to disarm until Washington normalizes relations, among other conditions. A key sticking point is the American allegation that Pyongyang is running a highly enriched uranium program.

On Wednesday, the United States said that North Korea must abandon all its nuclear programs, including uranium enrichment. Pyongyang has always denied operating such a program, which can be used to produce atomic explosive devices, either for weapons or for peaceful purposes.

"This issue has to be clarified in the process of the six-party talks," said Qin.

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