US ends talks with N Korea in Berlin

Berlin, Jan 18 | Updated: Jan 19 2007, 05:30am hrs
US and North Korean officials ended three days of discussions in Berlin on Thursday without commenting on the chances of a breakthrough at six-party talks on the communist state's nuclear weapons programme. A spokeswoman for the US Embassy confirmed that US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, who met North Korean officials for six hours on Tuesday and 1-1/2 hours on Wednesday, held a third round of talks on Thursday.

She said Hill had left the German capital and was en route to Asia. He made no statements following Thursday's informal discussions with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Kye-gwan.

After the first round, Hill described the talks as "useful discussions" but played down any suggestion that they might lead to a breakthrough in the nuclear standoff with Pyongyang, which detonated its first nuclear device last October.

Hoping to curb Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme, the United Nations Security Council issued a resolution imposing sanctions which forbid the sale of luxury goods and military equipment to North Korea.

North Korean negotiators did not speak to reporters in Berlin. North Korea's official KCNA news agency issued what it said was a joint statement of the country's government, political parties and organisations.

"The US should drop its anachronistic hostile policy toward the DPRK (North Korea), halt its reckless nuclear row against the DPRK, give up its plot to stifle the latter through sanctions and stop unreasonably interfering in the issues of the Korean nation," KCNA said on Thursday.

Mark Fitzpatrick, a non-proliferation expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London and a former US State Department official, said it was a good sign that Washington and Pyongyang had revived direct talks.

"The lack of a communication channel had been one of the detrimental factors contributing to their (North Korea's) decision that only provocative steps would work," Fitzpatrick said. "It's late, but it's good that it's taking place." US State Department spokesman Tom Casey told reporters in Washington on Wednesday he did not expect Hill to meet the North Koreans again in Seoul, Beijing or Tokyo -- the next stops during his trip.

A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman welcomed the US-North Korea meetings, the first outside Beijing since the six-party talks began in 2003, the year Pyongyang expelled UN inspectors and withdrew from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

"We hope the conversations create conditions for the early resumption and real progress of the six-party talks on the Korean Peninsular nuclear issue," spokesman Liu Jianchao was quoted as saying by the Xinhua news agency.