Diplomats sought Wednesday to break a stalemate between the United States and North Korea that has bogged down six-party negotiations on North Korean disarmament and threatened to stall the talks.
The standoff involved some of the same issues that have held up progress over two years of on-and-off negotiations, officials said. The negotiations have dramatized the difficulty of persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons despite what was described as an improved atmosphere when the current talks. The six-party negotiations began in August 2003, and this fourth round of talks here on July 26 after a 13-month lull.
Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs and head of the U.S. delegation, said diplomats from the six nations involved have concluded this round should draw to a close soon even though nine days of arduous wrangling so far has produced no agreement. "Certainly, one does get the sense that we're getting to the end point here," he said Wednesday evening, reports Washington Post.
According to Reuters, delegates held a series of bilateral contacts during the morning to discuss the text, the fourth draft so far, but no agreement was reached, Xinhua news agency said.
In early evening, chief U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill said, he would meet Chinese officials and possibly the North Koreans.
"The United States and North Korea remain far apart over their positions on key issues," a Japanese delegate told reporters.
With tensions high, Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke by telephone on Wednesday. The Foreign Ministry said the pair had exchanged views on Sino-U.S. relations and "issues of common concern".
Failure in Beijing could mean Washington losing patience with the whole six-party process and taking the debate to the U.N. Security Council, a move certain to escalate the crisis. China opposes such a step and North Korea has warned that any U.N. sanctions would be tantamount to war.
"We plan to give up our nuclear weapons and all plans relating to weapons as soon as the U.S. eliminates its nuclear threat towards us and mutual trust is established," North Korea's Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan told reporters yesterday. “This is not a decision made on demand by anyone else or forced by anyone else. This is what we have decided on our own.”
The North has balked at demands it disarm before it receives aid promised by the U.S. and the other negotiators. North Korea, with a population of 22 million, has depended on outside aid since the 1990s, when more than a million people may have died from famine because of years of flooding, drought and economic mismanagement.
"They can look to a brighter future, a more secure future but they can't do it with nuclear weapons,” Hill said today, informs Bloomberg.
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