- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 8, 2007

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that she is “cautiously optimistic” that initial progress can be made at six-nation negotiations aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear-weapons programs, as talks resumed hours earlier in Beijing.

The Chinese hosts circulated a joint statement draft outlining the first steps Pyongyang must take, as well as reciprocal gestures by the United States and the other participants, diplomats said.

“The six-party talks have reconvened in Beijing just as we speak, and I think we are cautiously optimistic that there may be some movement forward,” Miss Rice said during testimony on the 2008 budget request before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

At the same time, she said she does not count her “chickens until they are hatched.”

Kim Kye-gwan, the chief North Korean negotiator, said in the Chinese capital that his delegation was “prepared to discuss first-stage measures” toward disarmament. But he also repeated a refrain the North has been using since President Bush took office in 2001.

“We are going to make a judgment based on whether the United States will give up its hostile policy and come out toward peaceful coexistence,” he said, adding that Washington was “well aware” what it had to do.

Still, U.S. and other officials said the first day of the talks went well, unlike the last round in December, when U.S. financial sanctions on the North reportedly were cited by Mr. Kim as an obstacle to progress on the nuclear issue.

“We had a good first day today,” Christopher Hill, the top American negotiator, told reporters in Beijing. “We hope we can achieve some kind of joint statement here.”

Mr. Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, met with Mr. Kim over three days in Berlin last month, after which the North said they had agreed on some of the outstanding issues.

Last week, Treasury officials held talks with a North Korean delegation in Beijing on the financial penalties, which involved freezing the North’s assets in a Macau bank, apparently to the partial satisfaction of Pyongyang.

Washington imposed the restrictions in fall 2005, saying the funds were associated with illicit activities, such as money laundering and counterfeiting U.S. dollars.

The draft proposed by China yesterday builds on a joint statement all six countries — the United States, China, Japan, Russia, South and North Korea — signed in September 2005, which described the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula as their goal, diplomats said.

In exchange for scrapping its nuclear-weapons programs, the North is expected to receive economic and political incentives, such as energy and possibly diplomatic relations with the United States.

Last week, U.S. specialists met in Pyongyang with Mr. Kim, who said North Korea wanted heavy fuel oil and light-water reactors, which it had received for freezing its program in 1994. Both projects were abandoned in 2002 after Washington said Pyongyang was secretly enriching uranium in violation of the deal, known as the Agreed Framework.

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