September 28, 2007 / 1:28 AM / 12 years ago

North Korea talks grapple with "nuts and bolts"

BEIJING (Reuters) - The U.S. envoy to talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear arms ambitions cooled expectations on Friday that the latest session would set targets, saying that negotiators nonetheless hoped to agree on a “road map”.

Top U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill waits for the start of the six-party talks in Beijing, September 27, 2007. REUTERS/Claro Cortes IV

Under an accord reached in February, North Korea must disable its atomic facilities and make a complete declaration of all its nuclear programs. In return, the impoverished communist state, will receive a massive injection of fuel aid.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill had said earlier that the six countries at the Beijing talks — the United States, the two Koreas, Japan, Russia and China — hoped to study a draft joint statement that would set targets up to the end of the year for the disablement of the North’s nuclear programs.

But at the end of the second day of the latest talks, Hill said the negotiators were addressing the “nuts and bolts” of disarmament steps and timing and would not necessarily come up with a joint statement even if they bridged their differences.

“It might come tomorrow or we might not go with a joint statement,” he said, adding that the Chinese hosts felt the pieces of such a communique had not fallen into place yet.

“I think what we need to have is a road map ahead and we’re discussing elements of what that would look like.”

South Korean envoy Chun Young-woo said the differences were not insurmountable.

“There are some differences regarding North Korea’s level of disablement and declaration from the level that other countries expect but I think it will not be impossible to overcome these differences,” South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted Chun as saying.

“North Korea in its own way has a strong will that it must produce an outcome from this meeting.”

“CONCLUSIVE DOCUMENT”

Russian envoy Alexander Losyukovon said the parties might hold discussions on passing a “conclusive document” on Saturday or Sunday, Xinhua news agency said.

North Korea shut down and sealed its Soviet-era Yongbyon nuclear plant and allowed U.N. atomic energy monitors back to the site in July, its first steps in seeing through the breakthrough February 13 deal.

In return, Pyongyang has received shiploads of heavy fuel oil and held long-sought bilateral talks with the United States that could bring the fortress state out of diplomatic isolation.

But the country must still move ahead to disable its nuclear arms programs and to “declare” all its nuclear activities in order to receive 950,000 tonnes of heavy fuel — crucial to North Korea, which is so poor it cannot afford fuel to run factories or even traffic lights.

“For disabling to be meaningful, it has to involve a concept of it being difficult for the DPRK to reconstitute its nuclear programs,” Hill said before the talks, referring to the country by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

He said that a “key concern” of North Korea was being lifted from the U.S. list of terrorist-sponsoring states.

Asked whether he had raised the issue of speculation that North Korea had supplied nuclear know-how to Syria, Hill said: “We have raised the issue very forcefully on the overall question of proliferation and the need to do something about proliferation.”

Additional reporting by Lindsay Beck in Beijing and Jonathan Thatcher in Seoul

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