No pact yet on North Korean nuke issue as talks linger

Beijing, July 31 | Updated: Aug 1 2005, 05:30am hrs
The six nations seeking an amicable settlement to the North Korean nuclear crisis on Sunday failed to reach a consensus on the final joint statement after a highly-charged sixth session amid indications that the parleys could enter a record seventh day on Monday.

Envoys from the US, North and South Korea, China, Russia and Japan continued their secret parleys here to review the draft of the joint statement prepared by host China which could be the basis for dismantling Pyongyangs controversial nuclear programme.

Negotiators met for nearly five hours here to thrash out a joint statement of principles with the discussions centered on what Pyongyang will get in return for dismantling its ambitious nuclear weapons programme, informed sources said. The US has already said that the Chinese text represents a good basis for negotiations with North Korea.

Diplomatic sources said the talks were held by the working-level officials of the six nations and they would report to the delegation leaders if they managed to agree on the final draft.

South Korean diplomats said the working session may likely be followed by an expanded meeting of deputy delegation members or their chiefs.

The contents of the draft document were not immediately available, but North Korea and the US reportedly remained split over several key issues, including the Norths demand for peaceful use of nuclear energy and its alleged secret nuclear programme using highly-enriched uranium (HEU).

While denying the existence of an HEU programme, North Korea insists that it has the right to use nuclear energy for power generation and other peaceful purposes, media reports said.

The US is demanding North Korea to verifiably scrap all of its nuclear programmes, including one for civilian use, but the North says it wont do so unless it gets us concessions first.

After a one-to-one meeting with his South Korean counterpart, song min-soon, the chief US negotiator, Christopher Hill, said he cant say for sure when this round of talks would end.

We just had a good meeting about sort of taking stock about where we are. Weve been here almost a week now, to be sure, Hill said.

There is a drafting committee back at the talks going through the document. We will be getting reports from them at some point ... I dont know how much longer it will go on, Hill, also us assistant secretary of state for East Asia and Pacific, said. Hill had already expressed pessimistic view that it was hard for the joint statement to come out on Sunday.

We reviewed the progress of the negotiations and discussed how to work out a strong framework for resolution of this nuclear issue, Song said.

No date has been set when to end the already longest-ever negotiations which started on Tuesday. Three previous rounds, also held in Beijing in 2003 and 2004, lasted three or four days and ended without much progress.

Meanwhile, North Korea said through its state-run Pyongyang radio it will rejoin the nuclear non-proliferation treaty if the six-nation talks are successful. The North quit the NPT in early 2003 in a bitter dispute with the US. The forth round of six-way talks resumed here on June 26 after a 13-month hiatus.