Nuke talks drag on as nations thrash out joint statement
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Nuke talks drag on as nations thrash out joint statement

Six-way talks on N Korea's nuke program due to wrap up spelling out the need for a non-nuke Korean peninsula, and little else.

india Updated: Feb 28, 2004 13:06 IST

Six-way talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program were due to wrap up Saturday with a joint statement spelling out the need for a non-nuclear Korean peninsula, but little else of substance.

In a last-minute twist of events, North Korea "doggedly" insisted on the insertion of an unspecified term into the statement, causing a delay in the closing ceremony, originally scheduled for 11 am (0300 GMT), sources said.

The talks, in their fourth day, have produced no concrete results so far with North Korea and the United States sticking fast to their hardline positions.

According to South Korea's Yonhap news agency, a seven-point joint press statement will conclude the negotiations, but a draft copy shows that the gulf between the main protagonists appears as wide as ever.

There appears to be no direct mention of the United States key demand that North Korea completely, verifiably and irreversibly dismantle its nuclear program -- both plutonium and uranium-based for military and peaceful purposes.

Among the points that do appear to have made it into the draft are agreement that the Korean peninsula should be denuclearized and that a third round of talks will take place in the first half of this year.

The draft also said participating countries should establish an early, open working group of talks and that the crisis should be resolved in accordance with coordinated and agreed procedures, Yonhap said.

China, the host nation, has been pushing hard for some sort of joint document as the bare minimum from the talks which started Wednesday.

Washington has repeatedly insisted that an admission by North Korea to having a uranium enrichment program is a key demand before any resolution could be reached.

But according to Japanese diplomats, it produced no evidence during the six-party talks to back up its assertion.

"No, there wasn't," a Japanese official said when asked if the United States had come forward with any evidence.

The ongoing crisis was sparked in October 2002 when US envoy James Kelly said North Korea had a uranium enrichment program and was trying to build nuclear weapons.

The US embassy again insisted Saturday that the allegations were proven, saying Washington learned "conclusively" in the summer of 2002 that the North Koreans were pursuing a covert nuclear program based on uranium enrichment.

"North Korea's denial of such a program does not alter our assessment of their capabilities," the embassy spokeswoman told AFP.

"It is important that North Korea demonstrates its commitment to abandoning its nuclear program by being forthcoming about the entirety of their nuclear programs, including uranium enrichment," she said.

Deputy chief delegates, who have been putting the statement together, met again Saturday morning at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse to iron out any problems, Japanese diplomats said.

"They began their meeting at 9.30 am (0130 GMT)," one official said, adding that the statement would contain no signatures.

The chief delegates also began a meeting at 11.53 am (0353 GMT), Japanese officials said.

Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing, who is expected to speak at the closing ceremony, held a phone conversation late Friday with US Secretary of State Colin Powell, the Xinhua news agency said.

The two "exchanged views" over the talks among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States, but no further details were disclosed.

Washington's apparent refusal to give any ground followed a North Korean offer during the talks to disarm if the US takes a "corresponding" measure.

The Stalinist regime insists it must be compensated before abandoning its nuclear program while the US insists that North Korea act first.

So far, only a joint South Korean, Chinese and Russian plan to offer energy aid in exchange has been revealed.

First Published: Feb 28, 2004 13:06 IST