Six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear programme began in 2003 after North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

 

The talks, hosted by the Chinese government, brought together the two Koreas, their neighbours China, Russia and Japan, as well as the United States, and were intended as a multilateral framework to resolve concerns over North Korea's nuclear weapons.

 

The following is a snapshot of where each party stands:

 

North Korea

 

North Korea says the nuclear weapon test on October 9 proved to the world that it is a nuclear power and says it should be treated as such, although there remains some debate over the success of the operation.

 

It blames US "aggression" for forcing it into a corner and says US financial sanctions imposed in 2005, in response to alleged counterfeiting and money laundering, must be lifted before any deal can be made on its nuclear programme.

 

However, press reports indicate North Korea could be willing to suspend activity at its main nuclear reactor and allow UN nuclear inspectors to return if it is given energy aid and other benefits.

 

United States

 

Talks timeline

2003
August: First round of six-party talks in Beijing. North Korea issues plan to help reduce tensions, but talks fail to produce an agreement

2004
February: Second round of talks make no significant progress

June: Third round of talks discusses scope, time, and method of verification for disarming North Korea. Again no agreement is made

2005
September: At a fourth round of talks all parties agree plan of action under which North Korea would end its nuclear programme in exchange for aid and security guarantees

North Korea subsequently demands a civilian light-water reactor; a demand rejected by the US and Japan

2006
October 9: North Korea conducts first nuclear weapon test

December: Fifth round of talks end in deadlock. North Korea insists US financial sanctions end as a precondition to disarmament talks

2007 
February: Envoys gather in Beijing for sixth round of talks amid revived optimism that a deal can be reached

Christopher Hill, the chief US envoy to the talks, has said implementing a plan agreed by all the six parties at talks in September 2005 remains the prime US objective.

 

Under the plan, North Korea would scrap its nuclear weapons programme, and allow verification by international inspectors, in return for aid and security guarantees.

 

Hill has insisted that the issue of financial sanctions against Pyongyang and North Korea’s nuclear programme are dealt with separately.

 

With its armed forces mired in Iraq, the Bush administration is reportedly increasingly eager to secure a diplomatic victory over the North Korea issue although it says recognising North Korea as a nuclear state is not an option.

 

Some reports have suggested that the US may be willing to unfreeze some North Korean funds as an incentive to progress, although officials have publicly denied there is any such plan.

 

China

 

As the closest thing North Korea has to an ally in the world, and its number one source of aid, China is seen as having the most influence over Pyongyang.

 

Beijing sees North Korea as a crucial buffer between its borders and tens of thousands of US troops stationed in South Korea and Japan.

 

However, the Chinese government has shown growing frustration at North Korea’s inflexibility and reacted angrily to North Korea’s decision to go ahead with its nuclear test, despite Beijing's warnings to the contrary.

 

Although it backed UN sanctions in response to the test, China is still not seen as likely to support any action that would lead to a collapse of the North Korean regime.

 

Such a collapse, Beijing fears, would lead to a surge of North Korean refugees across its borders and create a vacuum that could lead to greater US influence in the region.

 

South Korea

 

With its capital, Seoul, within easy reach of North Korean artillery and its one million-strong army, South Korea would likely bear the brunt of any first strike if North Korea, feeling cornered, were to lash out.

 

Likewise any collapse of the North Korean state, and the subsequent exodus of refugees, would place a massive strain on South Korean resources.

 

As such, South Korea sees the stability of North Korea as its chief concern and has continued to pursue its so-called “sunshine policy” of engagement with the North – the highpoint of which was the historic inter-Korean summit in North Korea in June 2000.

 

Although it has backed UN sanctions imposed after the October 9 nuclear test, it has refused to end joint economic projects in the North that critics say helps to funnel cash to the Pyongyang government.

 

Japan

 

Tokyo has a long history of tense relations with North Korea and was particularly alarmed when a North Korean missile flew over its territory in 1998 as part of a test by Pyongyang.

 

Another unresolved focus of tensions has been the past North Korea abduction of several Japanese citizens, some of whom have returned to Japan, but others remain unaccounted for.

 

Japan has irritated other parties at the talks by using the forum to press North Korea over the abduction issue.

 

It has ruled out giving any economic incentives to North Korea to end its nuclear programme without any resolution of the kidnapping issue.

 

Since the nuclear test, Tokyo has pushed for a hardline against North Korea and imposed a ban on all North Korean imports.

 

Russia

 

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has described North Korea’s nuclear test as unacceptable and Moscow’s chief envoy to the six party talks has said the North's nuclear weapons are a threat to Russian interests in the region.

 

Analysts say Russia is eager to use the six-party process to restore some of its influence in the Asia-Pacific region and it has backed the UN sanctions imposed after the North's test.

 

However, it has also criticised the US for policies it says have pushed North Korea into a corner.

Source: Agencies