Prague, 14 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The nuclear standoff was sparked in late 2002 after U.S. officials accused North Korea of running a secret uranium-enrichment program in violation of an earlier deal. Pyongyang had agreed to stop weapons development in exchange for energy aid and other incentives.
Since then China, Japan, Russia, the United States, and North and South Korea have held a total of four rounds of negotiations to try convince Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons programs.
The last round ended in early August after 13 days without any noticeable progress and with the parties unable to settle on a statement of principles.
Chief U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, today urged North Korea to focus on concessions already offered in return for a commitment to disarm rather than press new demands. Hill said the communist nation had raised new issues that go beyond a draft agreement being negotiated by the six countries at the talks, such as the construction of a civilian light-water nuclear reactor to supply energy.
"Of the five parties, the U.S. and the other four parties, I think there is a strong willingness to work with the fourth draft, the draft put together by the Chinese side," Hill said. "With respect to the light-water reactor issue that has come up in the discussions, I don't detect among any of the parties a willingness to construct a light-water reactor.”
Washington is demanding Pyongyang dismantle all nuclear programs verifiably and irreversibly, after which it could expect energy aid and security guarantees. However, North Korea wants aid and guarantees first and keeps pushing for the right to peaceful atomic energy.
Japan agrees with the United States' view that the North's history of alleged deceit means it can't be trusted. But China, Russia, and South Korea have all backed the North's right in principle to a civilian atomic program if it follows international norms.
South Korean delegate Song Min-soon today reiterated Seoul’s position: "It is a little too early to talk about that much detail. But North Korea, when they complete the dismantlement of their nuclear weapons and nuclear programs, they can have their right to peaceful use of nuclear energy.”
Hill tried to keep the issue from sidetracking the talks, and emphasized that the main thrust of negotiations was the elimination of nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula.
"The key element is denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," Hill said. "And I want to hear from [North Korea] specifically how they would see that and the implementation of the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. I consider that the most urgent task to get [North Korea] out of the nuclear-weapons business."
No end date for the talks has been set, but Hill said negotiators hoped to wrap up "in a few days."
In New York yesterday, Chinese President Hu Jintao told his U.S. counterpart George W. Bush that Beijing was ready to "step up" its efforts to achieve progress in the negotiations.See also:
Six-Party Nuclear Talks Take Recess Without Agreement
Delegates Say Six-Party Talks Reach Critical Stage