N.Korea nuclear talks resume amid optimism
Updated: 2007-02-08 12:42
International talks on North
Korea's nuclear program convene Thursday amid a new sense of optimism about the
possibility of the first tangible progress on North Korea's disarmament since
negotiations began more than three years ago.
North Korea's negotiator for the
six-party talks Kim Kye-gwan speaks to the media after arriving in
Beijing's airport February 8, 2007. Six-party talks aimed at dismantling
North Korea's nuclear programme resume in Beijing on Thursday with the top
US envoy denying a Japanese media report that North Korea had signed a
deal with Washington. [Reuters]
main US envoy said he senses "there is a real desire to have progress" on the
part of the North Koreans in talks aimed at dismantling Pyongyang's nuclear
prepared to discuss first-stage measures," the North's nuclear envoy Kim Kye
Gwan said on arriving in Beijing for the six-nation negotiations set to start
Media reports have suggested the North may agree to
freeze its main nuclear reactor and allow international inspectors in exchange
for energy aid as a starting step to disarm.
But Kim said any moves by
North Korea would be determined by the United States' attitude.
going to make a judgment based on whether the United States will give up its
hostile policy and come out toward peaceful coexistence," he said, adding that
Washington was "well-aware" of what it had to do.
"I'm not either
optimistic or pessimistic because there are still many points of confrontation
to resolve," Kim said.
Ahead of the six-nation talks, North
Korea had signaled it was satisfied with changes in the United States'
attitude, and there appeared to be a greater willingness on all sides to
compromise on issues that had deadlocked previous talks.
Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill denied a report in a Japanese
newspaper Thursday that the United States and North Korea had signed a
memorandum during bilateral talks last month agreeing that Pyongyang's first
steps toward denuclearization and US energy support would begin
"We did not sign anything," Hill told reporters, but
added he was hopeful the Beijing talks would lead to tangible progress.
"If we're successful we could get to the point where we are discussing
technical matters at working groups," he said.
Japanese envoy Kenichiro
Sasae said the main goal of the current round of talks was to make concrete
progress toward disarmament.
"We are prepared to do our utmost toward
this goal, and we strongly hope and are certain that North Korea has come
prepared to do that," Sasae said in Beijing.
The lack of progress at the
arms negotiations has raised the issue of the credibility of the talks. Since
2003, they have produced only a single agreement in September 2005 on principles
for North Korea to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for aid and pledges
that Washington won't invade North Korea.
Negotiators said it was key to
take the first steps to implement that September 2005 agreement at this week's
talks, which bring together China, Japan, Russia, the United States and the two
"When we do get a set of actions, or if we do, it will widely be
seen as a very solid positive step for the implementation of the September
agreement, with the understanding that there is no success till we implement the
full agreement," Hill said Thursday.
"So we have got a lot of work to do
today and in the coming days and probably in following meetings of the six
parties," he said.
The latest nuclear standoff with North
Korea was sparked in late 2002 after Washington accused Pyongyang of a
secret uranium enrichment program in violation of a 1994 deal between the two
countries. North Korea kicked out nuclear inspectors and restarted its main
reactor, moves that culminated in the country's first-ever test atomic
detonation in October.
Although the US, China and Russia backed UN
sanctions in the wake of the nuclear test, Washington has since engaged in a
series of diplomatic overtures that have drawn praise from Pyongyang.
That includes Hill's trip to Germany last month to meet North Korean
nuclear envoy Kim Kye Gwan. The North said after that the sides had reached an
unspecified agreement, but the specifics of what they discussed have not been
Washington has also held separate talks on financial
restrictions it has placed on a Macau-based bank where North Korea held
accounts, accusing it of complicity in the regime's alleged counterfeiting and
money laundering. Blacklisting that bank has scared off other financial
institutions from dealings with North Korea for fears of losing access to the
North Korea had earlier demanded the financial
restrictions be lifted for it to disarm, and refused to talk about anything
besides that issue at the last nuclear talks in December.
No end date
has been set for this round of talks, but Hill has said the Chinese hosts
expected the talks to last a few days and the sides would start reviewing a
draft agreement Friday.
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