US urges speedy end to N. Korea talks

Updated: 2007-02-11 15:34
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BEIJING - The US envoy to six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear arms programme said on Sunday it was time to wrap things up and reach a resolution but South Korean and Japanese delegates held out little hope.

Envoys to the talks from North and South Korea, the United States, Russia, Japan and host China have agreed on most of a plan that would oblige Pyongyang to shut down nuclear activities in return for economic and security assurances.

But North Korea is at odds with the other five countries over a single paragraph of the draft agreement, US envoy Christopher Hill told reporters as he headed into a fourth day of talks.

"I think it's time to wrap this up and get moving and I hope the other participants will share this view," Hill said.

"... We've made a lot of progress. It's progress that's consolidated. We've got this one issue -- we ought to try to wrap this issue up."

The row is the latest act in a long-running drama setting a wary and isolated North Korea against the five other countries, which have urged it to end nuclear weapons ambitions that culminated in the country's first atomic test blast in October.

Hill has refused to detail exactly what is snagging negotiations but said on Sunday he thought the issue was one to be discussed by experts in a working group.

South Korean envoy Chun Yung-woo said the sticking point was not over how much energy to give the North but how any energy and economic aid is "tied to the scope and speed of the actions of denuclearisation" to be taken by North Korea.

South Korea might lead the working group on energy aid to North Korea, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported, citing sources.

"It's a bit unreasonable to expect there'll be a breakthrough today," Chun said.

Other diplomats have said the row is over the incentives Pyongyang would receive in return for shutting down its Yongbyon nuclear plant, which makes plutonium usable in nuclear weapons.


Japan's negotiator, Kenichiro Sasae, sounded a bleak note.

"The gulf between North Korea and us is considerably large, and whether we can fill in the gap solely depends on North Korea," he told reporters.

"Although we are going to have discussions today, we are not in a situation where we can be optimistic."

North Korea has demanded the US and four other countries provide it with 2 million kilowatts (2,000 megawatts) of electricity annually in exchange for taking initial steps towards abandoning its nuclear weapons capability, a diplomatic source in Beijing told Reuters.

That would be equivalent to about 2.7 million tonnes of heavy fuel oil a year, the source said.

North Korea's calculations of 2,000 MW of electric power seem to be based on what could have been generated by two light-water reactors that were supposed to be built under a 1994 landmark deal between the United States and North Korea, the source said.

North Korea has insisted that the United States be directly involved in supplying the fuel oil, rather than just arranging a deal through the other four countries, to demonstrate its goodwill towards the reclusive communist state, the source said.

In September 2005, North Korea agreed to a joint statement sketching out the nuclear disarmament steps Pyongyang needed to take to secure fuel and economic aid, as well as political acceptance from its adversary, the United States.

But that deal languished after Washington accused North Korea of counterfeiting US currency and other illicit business.

The ensuing crackdown on a bank in Macau enraged Pyongyang, which stayed away from the six-party talks until international condemnation after the nuclear test drew it back in December.

Hill said negotiators still hoped to agree on a joint statement, adding that he would have a bilateral meeting on Sunday with North Korea envoy Kim Kye-gwan.

Asked when the talks would finish, he said: "I don't want to celebrate Chinese New Year in Beijing." The holiday begins on February 18.