6-nation talks on N. Korea create little progress

Meetings reveal conflict over nuclear program

February 27, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BEIJING - The United States, North Korea and four other nations discussed yesterday freezing North Korea's nuclear program in exchange for energy aid. But the continuing talks here also exposed stark disagreements that left diplomats wondering whether they could emerge with much more than a commitment to keep negotiating.

The United States and North Korea appeared to make modest concessions at the talks, several participants said, and the tone was described as constructive and lacking the invective that often punctuates discussions with North Korea. The two had private meetings during each of the first two days as well as participating in group discussions.

But it was clear that the United States and North Korea made scant progress in resolving their differences over the scope of North Korea's nuclear program, the steps it would have to take to abolish it and the timing of any aid packages for North Korea.

To underscore their differences, North Korea hurriedly convened international reporters last night and denounced the "hard-line stance" of the United States for preventing progress.

"The second round of six-nation talks isn't making progress because of the United States' hard-line position," Choe Jin Su, the North Korean ambassador in Beijing, was quoted as saying in an official statement read aloud to reporters outside the North Korean Embassy.

"We will abandon our nuclear weapons program when the United States drops its hostile policy toward North Korea," Choe said. "The United States should take all the responsibility for the meeting not making progress."

It was not clear whether North Korea's statement was a warning that it planned to withdraw from the talks or merely public posturing before the third and possibly final day of negotiations today.

Assessments of how well the talks were going depended heavily on which party was doing the assessing. In addition to the United States and North Korea, Japan, South Korea, China and Russia are taking part in the discussions.

China, which brokered the talks and is staging them at the Diaoyutai State Guest House in western Beijing, said that the participants had made significant progress in discussing the "comprehensive stopping of nuclear activities."

Officials said delegates were hard at work drawing up a communique that would serve as a statement of common principles. A spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry said China expected that the parties would decide to continue negotiations, possibly in smaller working groups that could meet more regularly in less diplomatically cumbersome circumstances.

South Korea also presented an upbeat view of the first two days of discussions, which Lee Soo Hyuck, South Korea's chief negotiator, said focused largely on South Korea's plan for freezing and later dismantling North Korea's nuclear program in exchange for energy aid.

Speaking to reporters after the talks, Lee said that China and Russia joined South Korea in offering energy assistance to North Korea if it agreed to a comprehensive freeze on the way to finally abolishing its nuclear program.

Lee said that the United States and Japan said they would not participate in such an aid program. But he added that the United States signaled "its understanding and support" for the plan, a stance that might be interpreted as a modest concession by the Bush administration. The administration had said that it opposed aid for North Korea until the country unilaterally dismantled all atomic weapons facilities.

The chief American negotiator, James A. Kelly, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, made no comments about the talks yesterday, but Secretary of State Colin L. Powell called the meetings "positive." Speaking in Washington, he said, "There is a promising attitude that is emerging from those meetings, and hopefully we can move in the right direction from there."

The Russian delegate at the talks, Alexander Losyukov, provided a more skeptical analysis, telling reporters that significant differences emerged between the United States and North Korea and that some splits were evident among the other parties.

He said North Korea insisted that it would abolish only the military component of its nuclear program and would retain a "peaceful nuclear program" for the purpose of generating electricity.

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