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North Korea: Delegates Say Six-Party Talks Reach Critical Stage

After a week of intense debate, six-party talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula entered a second week today with no sign of a breakthrough or compromise. The diplomats are trying to agree on a draft statement of principles for future negotiations. Delegation chiefs say the talks are at a critical stage and that much depends on North Korea.

Prague, 2 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- For more than a week, diplomats from the United States, Japan, Russia, China, and the two Koreas have been trying to reach agreement on a joint statement of principles that would serve as a guideline for future denuclearization talks.

So far, two draft statements have been proposed. But neither has been acceptable to all sides in the talks.

China submitted the latest draft yesterday. It reportedly included promises of "economic cooperation" with North Korea if Pyongyang curtails its nuclear programs.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said today he thinks the second draft more clearly reflected the comments of all parties during the past week of talks. "To be very frank, there are a lot of differences and they certainly came out over the course of the [last] 12 or so hours of negotiation," he said. "We are very much committed to negotiating, to working through dialogue. But I need to be very clear that there are a lot of differences between the North Korean side on the one hand and everyone else on the other hand."

Japan's chief negotiator Kenichiro Sasae said today that the Beijing talks have reached a critical stage. He said it is now up to North Korea to make the next move. "At last the negotiations have come close to the moment of truth. Many differences remain in the positions of the countries," Sasae said. "But we want to do our best to have our national interests reflected [in the joint statement] and to secure good overall results."

Beijing's official Xinhua news agency reported today that Chinese negotiators held one-on-one talks with officials from both the United States and North Korea. The report suggests that China is a driving force behind the negotiations and is taking on the role of mediator in an attempt to prevent the discussions from breaking down.

In Tokyo, Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura indicated that North Korea is rejecting a U.S. demand that Pyongyang promise in writing to dismantle its nuclear projects and to admit to having a uranium-enrichment program.

Reports also say officials in Tokyo and Washington want a phrase in the final text stating that Pyongyang must abandon all of its nuclear programs -- whether for weapons or for civilian purposes, such as producing electricity. Chinese and Russian delegates reportedly want an end to North Korea's nuclear-energy programs -- but only its nuclear weapons.

South Korea recently offered to supply North Korea with 2 million megawatts of electricity a year if denuclearization moves forward. Hill said last week that the electricity deal would allow North Korea to get out of the nuclear business altogether.

But the head of the South Korean delegation, Song Min-soon, said after yesterday's lengthy negotiations that the offer had not led to a breakthrough on the most divisive issues. "Because we're finding differences of opinion, that's why we're holding these talks," Soon said. "The question is, how we will find common ground in such differences and how we will sort this out. The cards are all on the table and we need to find wisdom to use them properly. We have almost played our hand."

North Korea says it wants to keep its nuclear-energy program. It has said it may rejoin an international nuclear treaty and accept international inspections of its nuclear facilities.

But officials in Pyongyang say the denuclearization talks must lead to what they call "a satisfactory solution." That solution, North Korea says, must include the acceptance by the United States of "peaceful coexistence."

The talks under way in Beijing are the fourth round of negotiations on the Korean Peninsula's nuclear crisis since 2003. They come after a break of more than a year. The current talks are the longest since the process began and have been characterized by greater willingness from all sides.

Last February, North Korea declared it possesses nuclear weapons as a deterrent to what it called a U.S. plan to launch a nuclear attack. Washington denies any such plan exists.