Steps but no breakthrough in North Korea talks
By Chris Buckley
BEIJING (Reuters) - The United States and North Korea have made progress but no breakthrough towards settling Pyongyang's long-delayed declaration of its nuclear activities, U.S. envoy Christopher Hill said on Wednesday.
Six-country talks aimed at curbing North Korea's nuclear ambitions have been stalled pending a full accounting of North Korea's nuclear activities, including the plutonium that powered its first and only nuclear test blast in October 2006.
The declaration was due at the end of 2007 after negotiators settled on a deal earlier that year offering North Korea energy and economic aid in return for disarmament steps.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Hill said talks in Beijing on Wednesday, and in Singapore the day before, had yielded progress but not yet a final deal on the declaration.
"We've definitely made some progress," Hill told reporters following talks with nuclear negotiators from China, South Korea and Japan.
North Korea and Russia also participate in the six-party talks that China hosts.
"We have a lot of work ahead of us. I don't want to suggest there's been any major breakthrough," Hill added.
"We haven't yet arranged for all the factors, or the elements, that have to be put together."
North Korea's official KCNA news agency quoted an unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying the meeting in Singapore showed the effectiveness of bilateral dialogue and Pyongyang would fulfill its commitments.
"A consensus was reached on the U.S. measure to make political compensation and the nuclear declaration essential for winding up the implementation of the agreement," the spokesman said.
If Pyongyang makes a declaration that satisfies Washington, it stands to be removed from a U.S. terrorism blacklist and be better able to tap into finance that could boost its economy.
China's chief negotiator in the talks, Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei, jokingly suggested full settlement of the North's nuclear declaration was not imminent.
"In the course of six-party talks, some obstacles have arisen," Wu told reporters.
"Now these obstacles are gradually being removed. But to totally remove these obstacles will take some time."
Asked how long that would take, Wu said, "Probably in Autumn," and smiled when reporters laughed.
The declaration is meant to answer U.S. suspicions of secret North Korean programs to enrich uranium for weapons and of proliferating nuclear technology.
Diplomatic sources in Tokyo earlier told Reuters the United States and North Korea have been discussing a possible compromise under which Pyongyang would acknowledge U.S. assertions in a document separate from its declaration.
Last month, a senior U.S. official said Washington had begun exploring whether Pyongyang might disclose any proliferation and uranium enrichment in a separate document.
(Additional reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Jerry Norton)