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Powell optimistic on N.Korea talks, sees no deadlock
( 2003-12-04 09:36) (Agencies)

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said Wednesday he was optimistic six-way talks to defuse the North Korean nuclear crisis will take place soon and denied the process was deadlocked.

U.S. officials in Washington said Tuesday planning for a second round of talks had hit a snag and they may not take place until January or February instead of this month as expected.

"There is no deadlock," Powell told a news conference in Morocco, the second stop of a 24-hour North African tour.

"Everybody believes that six-party talks are going to take place and they are committed to that proposition," he said, suggesting it was wrong to talk of postponement when no date had ever been officially announced. "I think the talks will happen in the not too distant future."

"We're in close contact with all of the parties. We are working on various proposals. And in due course, when the schedule firms up and we have a better idea of the outline of the talks, we'll make an announcement," he added.

The first round of talks convened in Beijing in August involving China, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Russia, and the United States. The discussions ended inconclusively.

The crisis on the Korean peninsula has been simmering since October 2002, when the United States said Pyongyang had secretly admitted to an illicit nuclear weapons program, in breach of international conventions.

North Korea wants security guarantees from Washington which, for its part, insists on an "irreversible verification regime" to end Pyongyang's nuclear programs, including production of plutonium and highly enriched uranium for nuclear fuel.


Kyodo news agency reported Wednesday the United States, Japan and South Korea had rejected a Chinese-backed draft of a proposed joint statement for the next round of talks, saying it was too advantageous to North Korea.

The draft envisaged a security guarantee for North Korea in exchange for a declaration from Pyongyang that it would abandon its nuclear development program, but before implementation is confirmed, Kyodo said.

Washington says no such guarantee would be forthcoming until Pyongyang verifiably scrapped its nuclear program.

The disagreement over the proposal could delay the next round of six-way talks until next year, the agency said.

But South Korean and Japanese officials said Wednesday it was too early to rule out a further round of talks this year.

"We will see by the middle of next week whether the talks will be held within this year," a senior Japanese government official told Reuters in Tokyo on condition of anonymity.

A South Korean Foreign Ministry official agreed.

"Nothing is fixed. Let's wait for a couple of days," he said. "It's just speculation."

Working-level officials from Japan, South Korea and the United States are to discuss the crisis Thursday in Washington.

The South Korean official said by telephone it was significant North Korea had remained publicly silent so far about the timing of the next round of talks.

"The important thing is that North Korea has not denied the opening of the six-party talks, the second round. But recently they emphasized the simultaneous action principle," he said.

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