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US, North Korea to meet to break N-impasse

The chief nuclear envoys from both sides meet for the first time in a month, looking to break a deadlock that has stalled an intn'l deal to end the North's nuclear programmes.

world Updated: Mar 13, 2008 09:52 IST

The chief North Korean and US nuclear envoys meet in Geneva on Thursday for the first time in a month, looking to break a deadlock that has stalled an international deal to end the North's nuclear programmes.

Kim Kye-Gwan and his US counterpart Christopher Hill will meet in a new push for a full declaration from Pyongyang on all its nuclear programmes and alleged atomic cooperation with Syria.

Talks are scheduled to begin at midday (1100 GMT) at the US diplomatic mission in Geneva, the United States said in a statement.

North Korea last year signed a landmark deal to abandon all its nuclear weapons in exchange for badly needed energy and economic aid and major security and diplomatic benefits.

But the process - involving China, Japan, both Koreas, Russia and the United States - has been stalled since North Korea missed an end-2007 deadline to declare all its nuclear programmes and disable its plutonium plant.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yu Myung-Hwan said Wednesday he hoped that the meeting would produce some tangible results.

"We hope that progress should be made at the Geneva talks so that the six-party process may move forward to the next stage and related countries start discussing the dismantling of nuclear facilities," Yu said.

"A complete and correct declaration is a key to moving to the next stage rather than when the North will declare its nuclear facilities."

At stake is a US call for North Korea to clarify its suspected uranium enrichment programme (UEP) and secret nuclear technology transfers to Syria.

Pyongyang, which conducted its first nuclear test in October 2006 with plutonium, has denied the existence of a separate nuclear programme based on a UEP and has rejected alleged links with Syria.

The United States has demanded a "complete and correct" declaration of nuclear programmes from North Korea, which says it has already submitted such a list last year.

North Korea has since blamed Washington for the deadlock, citing a US failure to remove Pyongyang from a list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Hill and Kim met in Beijing last month in an effort to break the deadlock, but no progress was reported at the meeting.

US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Tuesday the Hill-Kim meeting was part of diplomatic efforts to move the six-party process forward.

During a visit to Beijing on February 26, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged China - North Korea's main ally - to use "all influence possible with the North Koreans" to end an impasse.

Koh Yu Hwan, a professor at Seoul's Dongkuk University, said China might have played a role in resuming the US-North Korea talks.

"China has more leverage than before over North Korea as the North's chronic food shortages become all the more acute this year amid global food price hikes," Koh told AFP.

"And China needs a breakthrough before the summer Olympic Games in Beijing."