BEIJING - North Korea and the United States each blamed the other yesterday after nearly two weeks of six-nation negotiations deadlocked over the issue of "peaceful use" nuclear programs.
But both sides also said an agreement remained possible and confirmed that they would have "contacts" during the three-week break in the talks that was announced yesterday. Negotiators from the six countries taking part are scheduled to reconvene in Beijing during the week of Aug. 29.
Hours before he was scheduled to fly back to Washington, Christopher R. Hill, the top American envoy, said North Korea had derailed the process by unexpectedly making a late demand for the right to operate light-water nuclear reactors. American officials believe the North Koreans could use such reactors to secretly make material for nuclear weapons.
The chief North Korean negotiator, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, said the United States had been unwilling to compromise on North Korea's desire for a peaceful nuclear program and needed to acknowledge its right as a sovereign nation for such a program.
"We couldn't meet in the middle because we were too far apart," Kim said. "What we are making is a just demand."
This fourth round of nuclear talks extended a record 13 days as negotiators tried to agree on a joint statement of principles that would serve as a broad but essential framework for future negotiations. The first three rounds of talks - which include China, North Korea, Japan, South Korea, the United States and Russia - ended without progress, and expectations were high for a joint statement in this latest round.
But yesterday, Wu Dawei, the chief delegate of the Chinese delegation, sought to shift expectations, saying that the delegations had made progress and that the 13 days of negotiations were "in-depth and useful discussions." Still, Wu would not predict whether a joint statement would be agreed to when the parties reconvene in three weeks.
"I cannot say for sure if we will reach agreement on a common paper after the recess, and I also want to stress the ability to issue a joint paper is not the barometer of success of these talks," Wu said.
Returning to his hotel yesterday after a final meeting of the six delegations, Hill emphasized that agreement on a joint statement of principles is essential to crafting a final disarmament deal. He said that if delegates could agree on such a statement upon their return, he expected that a fifth round of talks could begin as soon as next month to address the specifics of a final deal.
"We still have a lot of work to do, but I think there is progress," said Hill, who is assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.
Kenneth Lieberthal, a former Clinton administration official involved in past negotiations with North Korea, said a recess should not be interpreted as a collapse in the six-party process.