BEIJING - The main US
negotiator said Thursday that North Korea nuclear talks resumed on a positive
note, and that sides were hoping to achieve an agreement on the first steps for
Chief US negotiator Christopher Hill (L) attends the opening
of another round of the six-party talks at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in
Beijing February 8, 2007. [Reuters]
had a good first day today," Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told
reporters. "We hope we can achieve some kind of joint statement here."
Unlike the last round of six-nation talks in December, Hill said the
countries "were able to make progress on discussing denuclearization."
North Korea has said earlier it may be willing to give up its nuclear weapons
as fresh six-nation talks began amid warnings that four years of tough diplomacy
on Pyongyang was at a crossroads.
Four months after North Korea conducted its first atomic test to back
its claims of being a nuclear power, the nation's chief atomic envoy said
disarming was a possibility, but that the onus rested with the United States.
Kim Kye-Gwan said he was prepared to talk about reviving a deal made in the
six-way talks in September 2005, under which North Korea would scrap its nuclear
programme in return for aid, energy benefits and security guarantees.
"We are ready to discuss the initial steps, but whether the US will give up
its hostile policy against us and come out for mutual peaceful co-existence will
be the basis for our judgement," Kim told reporters ahead of the talks.
"There are still lots of contentious points yet to be settled. It depends on
how we settle those contentious points. We'll have to wait and see."
South Korean envoy Chun Yung-Woo said the negotiations would be picking up in
pace Friday when host China would draft an agreement.
"Tonight or tomorrow, China is expected to make a draft agreement based on
today's keynote speeches and discussions at the plenary session, and pass it on
to others," Chun said after the Thursday meeting was over.
Before the on-again, off-again negotiations resumed Thursday afternoon, US
envoy Christopher Hill said he believed North Korea could be enticed into
recommitting to the 2005 deal.
The agreement fell apart only two months after it was signed amid North
Korean protests over unrelated US sanctions imposed against it for alleged money
laundering and counterfeiting.
Although the sanctions standoff remains, Hill said he expected Kim would
negotiate this week on reviving the deal, following positive direct talks
between the pair in Berlin last month.
"I have every reason to believe that, but it's really between him and his
boss," Hill said.
China is the host of the six-way talks, which began in 2003 with the initial
aim of getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear ambitions.
The stakes were raised after North Korea's atomic test in October last
year, and the forum now hopes to convince North Korea to disarm entirely.
As well as China, North Korea and the US, other countries in the process are
Japan, Russia and South Korea.
China's chief envoy Wu Dawei said he wanted a "new beginning" to the process,
following repeated false dawns, stalemates and disputes.
"I sincerely hope... all parties will make further efforts to make this
session... a fresh start in the process towards the denuclearisation of the
Korean peninsula," Wu said in comments broadcast on national television.
The Japanese envoy, Kenichiro Sasae, who earlier said the diplomatic process
had reached a watershed moment, told his counterparts on Thursday that North
Korea must agree to quickly take concrete first steps towards disarming.
The initial steps must be for North Korea to freeze activities at its
Yongybyon nuclear reactor and allow International Atomic Energy Agency
inspectors, who were kicked out in 2002, back into the country.
"These measures... need to be implemented in a relatively short period of
time," Sasae said, according to a copy of his statement released to the press.
Hill has in recent days talked of possibly offering North Korea economic
incentives in a "first tranche" of measures that would see Pyongyang take
initial steps towards fulfilling its commitments under the 2005 accord.
However he has also warned that there were no prospects of North Korea
completely disarming any time soon.
South Korea's Chun said Thursday the negotiations were at a "crossroads",
while Hill conveyed a similar sense of urgency.
"It's a very important round because those of us who have been involved with
this know that this cannot go on forever," he said.
No timeframe has been released for this round of talks, although delegates
have said they expected it to last at least two or three days.