- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 27, 2004

BEIJING — Envoys ended six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear program yesterday with a promise to discuss steps toward dismantling it and to meet again by September, but they cautioned that the U.S. and North Korean positions remained far apart.

The four-day talks produced no breakthroughs, but diplomats said they agreed to discuss how to define the North’s initial moves toward disarmament, how they would be monitored and what kind of aid the impoverished nation could expect in return.

“The problems start from here,” said Japan’s chief delegate, Mitoji Yabunaka. “This is the first step, at the entrance. From now starts the work on concrete measures.”

A key issue appeared to be how far North Korea had to go to qualify for energy aid and other benefits offered by Washington, which is demanding that the North dismantle the program completely.

Other participants in the talks were China, Russia and South Korea.

Two previous rounds of six-nation talks, held at a walled government guesthouse in Beijing, produced no major progress on the stated goal of North Korea’s negotiating partners: a nuclear weapon-free Korean Peninsula.

North Korea offered this week to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for energy, the lifting of U.S. economic sanctions and removal from Washington’s list of countries that sponsor terrorism.

The North said the freeze would be a step toward eventual dismantling.

The U.S. proposal requires the North to go further, disclosing all its nuclear activities, helping to dismantle facilities and allowing outside monitoring. That plan would withhold some benefits for later to ensure the North cooperates.

The parties “agreed in principle to hold the fourth round of the six-party talks in Beijing by the end of September 2004,” Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi,the delegate from China and the meeting chairman, said yesterday.

Lower-level discussions will be held “at the earliest possible date to define the scope, duration and verification … for first steps for denuclearization,” as well as compensation for the North, Mr. Wang said.

China canceled a closing ceremony scheduled for yesterday and titled the final declaration a “chairman’s statement,” rather than a joint statement — signaling how far apart the negotiators were.

Despite their differences, the South Korean envoy, Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Soo-hyuck, was optimistic, saying the talks involved “substantial discussions” of the competing U.S. and North Korean proposals.

But China’s envoy said there were “a number of differences and even opposing ideas” between Washington and Pyongyang, which have no official relations.

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