- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 3, 2003

MARRAKECH, Morocco — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell insisted yesterday that negotiations for six-party talks with North Korea were progressing despite reports that the new round might not take place this month as planned.

“There is no deadlock,” Mr. Powell told reporters during a visit to Morocco. “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.”

U.S. and other officials acknowledged that clearing the way to a new meeting — to follow the first such session in August, to which China had played host — has proven more difficult than many diplomats had expected.

Although the official line of all participants — the United States, Japan, South Korea, China, Russia and North Korea — is that they are committed to a second round of talks, there is no compromise on the meeting’s agenda and any specific agreements it may produce, officials said.

The main document on which diplomats are working is a deal that would offer Pyongyang written security guarantees in exchange for its consent to scrap its nuclear weapons program.

Negotiations appear to have hit a snag, however, with the North demanding that it receive the assurances once it promises to abandon its program, while Washington wants proof of compliance before giving a security pledge.

Kyodo, the Japanese news agency, reported yesterday that the United States, Japan and South Korea had rejected a Chinese draft of an agreement, making it difficult for another six-party meeting to take place this month, as the participants had hoped.

On Tuesday, Reuters news agency quoted a U.S. official in Washington as saying that it appears more likely that the talks will be held in January or February.

Mr. Powell, pointing out that no meeting had been announced officially, said he had no doubt that it will happen sooner rather than later.

“I’m still optimistic,” he said. “Everybody believes that the six-party talks are going to take place and they are committed to that proposition, and I expect them to take place in the not-too-distant future.”

Japanese and South Korean officials would not rule out a meeting this month, saying things would become clearer in the coming days.

China, which is expected to play host to the new talks, has waged a rare diplomatic effort to bring the United States and North Korea closer in their positions. As Pyongyang’s most trusted friend, Beijing is seen as the party with the best shot at swaying the North. Some diplomats and analysts, however, are expressing doubt about China’s influence.

The nuclear standoff erupted more than a year ago, when North Korean officials told James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, that they secretly had been enriching uranium, which can be used to make atomic bombs.

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