Korea talks focus on nuclear checks

China to present envoys with draft plan for verifying N Korea's nuclear disarmament.

    The talks bring together envoys from the US, Russia, Japan, China and North and South Korea [AFP]

    As the talks resumed on Tuesday, China said it had drafted a document spelling out the proposed verification process.

    Liu Jianchao, a spokesman for China's foreign ministry, said Chinese officials had proposed several "initiatives" and had had "in depth discussions" with each party involved in the talks.

    'Three goals'

    Christopher Hill, the chief US negotiator, told reporters he had come to Beijing with "three goals in mind".

    He said the pressure was on delegates to agree specific standards by which to check if North Korea has told the truth about its past nuclear activities; to set schedules for delivering fuel oil aid to the North; and to agree a timetable for disabling its nuclear facilities.

    Hill said that North Korean officials present at first session of talks on Monday did not make any comments on verification procedures.

    North Korea agreed in 2007 to end its weapons programme in return for a package of aid
    The US and North Korea differ on what was agreed when Hill visited Pyongyang in October to try to salvage a disarmament deal agreed in February 2007.

    After reaching an apparent agreement on verification procedures, the US announced it would drop the North from the so-called "terrorism blacklist". The North then reversed its plans to restart its plutonium-producing nuclear plants.

    However, North Korea, which tested a nuclear weapon in October 2006, insists it never agreed to samples of atomic material being taken away from its nuclear sites.

    Pyongyang has previously said the outside verification of its nuclear inventory will involve only field visits, confirmation of documents and interviews with technicians.

    The talks bring together negotiators from the US, China, Russia, Japan as well as North and South Korea.

    On Monday as delegates began the latest round of talks, Wu Dawei, China's chief negotiator, urged envoys to be flexible during the three days of talks.

    'Joint efforts'

    "We should participate in the meeting with a flexible and pragmatic attitude. We need joint efforts to narrow differences," China's Xinhua news agency quoted Wu as saying.

    With respect to achieving a possible agreement with the North, Hill told the Reuters news agency that it was "still premature to say that".

    Hill, the US envoy to the talks, is attempting to seal a rare diplomatic success for the outgoing US administration in the final days of the Bush presidency.

    But observers say a breakthrough is unlikely with Pyongyang expected not to make any serious moves until Barack Obama, the US president-elect, takes office.

    Joseph Cheng, professor of international politics at City University in Hong Kong, told Al Jazeera that "structural weaknesses" in the negotiations may hamper progress.

    "While they are eager to demonstrate progress, the negotiators have not been attentive to the details, such as what is exactly involved in the so-called verification process," he said.

    Cheng added that if progress was to be made, the incoming Obama administration needed to understand North Korea's demands.

    "The leadership in Pyongyang wants to be assured not only of its state sovereignty, but that Washington wil not pursue a policy of regime change."

    In one sign of progress however, Kim Sook, the South Korean nuclear envoy, said that a consensus had been reached on Monday to complete the shipment of all promised economic aid to North Korea.

    This includes one million tons of fuel oil or equivalent energy aid by the end of March.

    Although a signatory to the six-nation disarmament deal, Japan has refused to send any aid to North Korea, demanding that Pyongyang first address the kidnappings of more than a dozen Japanese nationals during the Cold War.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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