The top U.S. envoy pledged Friday to keep at nuclear talks with North Korea as long as necessary, meeting again with the North's delegate as negotiations stretched into the longest round since the six-nation process began.
All six chief delegates met Friday afternoon and agreed to continue the talks Saturday, said Cho Tae-yong, the No. 2 South Korean delegate. The top delegates will "seriously discuss how to push forward this round of talks," Cho said of the Saturday session.
Despite the apparent impasse at the talks after a record fourth day - the previous rounds never exceeded three days - he said Friday's meetings "were not lower than my expectation."
"It's too early to pack or draw conclusions," said Cho, head of the Foreign Ministry's task force on the North Korea nuclear issue, The AP reports.
According to Reuters, the two sides held a fourth bilateral meeting on Friday morning, followed by a brief plenary session in the afternoon lasting just half an hour.
"The discussions we had yesterday involved our ideas on how to get to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and their ideas," U.S. chief negotiator Christopher Hill told reporters before the start of Friday discussions.
"I'm not saying they were identical ... but we heard some of their ideas which very much correspond to some of the ideas that we have," he said as he left his hotel.
All sides are committed in principle to a nuclear-free peninsula. The crux of the disagreement is over timing, whether Pyongyang should receive security guarantees and aid before it moves to scrap its weapons programs, as it insists, or if it should move first, as Washington wants.
"It's not a matter of who goes first; it's a matter of a strategic commitment that the goal of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula is embraced by all," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said.
"The question is do the North Koreans embrace that goal as well?" Rice told PBS television.
The North has also demanded Washington remove nuclear weapons from the peninsula. The United States, which keeps some 30,000 troops in South Korea, says it no longer has such weapons there.