Nuclear talks to end Friday without disarmament deadline

By Xinhua

Beijing : The two days of Six Party talks to set a timeframe for disabling the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's (DPRK) nuclear programs, are expected to end Friday without a disarmament deadline, US chief envoy Christopher Hill said late Thursday amid uncertainties over the talks.

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Hill believed the consensus given was "kind of not very successful", although negotiators had a great deal of discussion on an overall deadline.

But Hill said he still believed the DPRK could complete disablement before the end of the year as expected, and was pleased with what had been accomplished, describing the meeting as "the best one" he had attended.

Hill said working groups would likely to meet by the end of August to negotiate technical specifics on disablement procedures before all parties reached an overall deadline.

The talks were originally scheduled to end on Thursday with a chairman's statement, but were extended to Friday morning, to nail down a DPRK disarmament promise and an unlikely specific timetable.

Hill said they would meet China's foreign minister Friday before China issued a statement concluding the session, which would lay out the sequence of events at the second phase, the tasks of all five working groups, and a new round plenary session.

The six negotiators met on Thursday morning and held several rounds of bilateral consultations in the afternoon in "a serious and pragmatic" atmosphere, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, and in a "businesslike" manner in the eye's of Hill.

Japan's chief delegate Kenichiro Sasae told reporters that China was putting together the negotiation results to date for the next day's talks and the eventual chairman's statement.

"There were points we agreed on, but we also have divergence," Sasae said, adding the DPRK and Japan agreed on working together towards resolving issues of common concern despite a longstanding rift.

ROK chief negotiator Chun Yung Woo said Thursday's meeting, in a "more practical atmosphere", mainly discussed details of complete disablement of nuclear facilities, and the Six Parties "made their proposals frankly".

Russian special envoy Vladimir Rakhmanin said the meeting was held in "a friendly atmosphere". He also warned the participants not to "complicate or simplify the problems discussed".

Given the complexity of the issue, it was hard for negotiators to reach agreement on a disablement timetable, said the ROK negotiator, which, observers say, was the likely reason for prolonging the meeting.

However, positive signals emerged after the first day of talks. Hill said on Wednesday that the talks had been "very open and substantive discussions". The ROK negotiator said the DPRK demonstrated its willingness to disable its nuclear facilities and declare all its nuclear programs "in five to six months".

Although the DPRK made no comment on the ongoing talks, it had held three one-on-one meetings with the US. All chief negotiators held bilateral consultations as soon as they arrived in Beijing.

Chun, the ROK negotiator, said earlier on Thursday that the DPRK this time demonstrated "a practical and realistic approach", and if it could maintain this "pragmatic" way, it would be helpful for setting a specific action plan.

"It might be a controversial discussion about which step to take next," said Tao Wenzhao, a researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

He said it would be a "strategic choice" for the DPRK to implement the Feb. 13 joint document, and that trust was required between the DPRK and US.

The DPRK has already shut down its Yongbyon facilities, the first step to implementing the joint document, which maps out the specific steps for the DPRK's nuclear weapons abandonment and financial compensation.

The six nations ended with a joint document during the fifth round of talks in February this year, which was considered an initial action to implementing a landmark joint statement signed in Sept. 2005.

The meeting this week was the first since the last round of talks went into recess in late March.