- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 15, 2005

BEIJING — Talks on dismantling North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program are deadlocked due to “major disagreements” between the North and the United States, delegates said yesterday.

“There wasn’t any progress today. … We are in a bit of a standoff at the moment,” U.S. envoy Christopher R. Hill told reporters after a day of meetings with his North Korean counterpart and other chief delegates.

Mr. Hill, an assistant secretary of state, said there were “major disagreements” between the United States and North Korea, echoing the assessments of Japan and host country China.

The dispute centers on the North’s demand that the international community help it build light-water atomic reactors to generate electricity in exchange for ending its nuclear-weapons program.

The United States and Japan have refused, with Washington saying the cost and time frame are impractical and that the Stalinist state cannot be trusted to confine a reactor to civilian use.

“The differences of our positions are so great that the talks are stalemated,” Japan’s top envoy Kenichiro Sasae told reporters.

“North Korea’s demand for a light-water reactor is strong. We are not in a position to accept it as it is. The prospect is bleak unless this question is resolved,” Mr. Sasae said.

In an attempt to settle their differences, Mr. Hill and his North Korean counterpart, Kim Gye-gwan, held a 90-minute one-on-one meeting yesterday but failed to reach a compromise, with one official saying both left the session with “stiff faces.”

A spokesman for the North Korean delegation agreed yesterday that the talks were “not making progress” due to the dispute over light-water reactors.

“While other participating countries expressed understanding on this issue, the United States unreasonably vowed not to provide light-water reactors,” said spokesman Hyun Hak-bong.

Mr. Hill, however, rejected the North’s claims that all parties except the United States were willing.

“No delegation was prepared to offer North Korea a light-water reactor,” Mr. Hill said.

He urged the North to accept “a pretty good deal” he put on the table.

“The deal consists of really a lot of what the DPRK [North Korea] should want — security guarantees, a recognition package, access to international financial institutions, a very serious energy package,” he said.

The talks involving the two Koreas, Japan, Russia, China and the United States resumed on Tuesday after a five-week recess. Still, there was no sign they have broken down, with Mr. Hill and the North Koreans indicating they will continue discussions today.

“Everybody has got an interest in solving this problem through diplomatic means. … There will be a point at which we look at the deadline, but we are not at that point yet,” Mr. Hill said.

The talks are aimed at persuading North Korea, which says it has nuclear weapons, to give them up verifiably and irreversibly in exchange for security guarantees as well as energy and economic aid.

But they have become bogged down by Pyongyang’s insistence that its right to peaceful atomic energy be included in a statement of principles the six nations are trying to adopt to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

Differences of opinion between the six have became stark, with the United States and Japan insisting that light-water reactors were out of the question and South Korea saying they should remain an option.

China and Russia also have sided with North Korea on the nuclear-energy issue, though not as vocally as Seoul.

Mr. Hill said it would take up to a decade to build a light-water reactor and cost $2 billion to $3 billion; he urged the North to accept instead a South Korean offer to run power lines across the border.

Under a now-defunct 1994 agreement, two light-water reactors were to have been built by a U.S.-led consortium to replace North Korea’s existing graphite-moderated reactors, which can produce weapons-grade plutonium.

But construction was suspended after the United States in 2002 accused the North of developing a secret uranium-enrichment program.

Failure to reach an agreement in Beijing could prompt the United States to take the issue to the U.N. Security Council and press for sanctions.

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