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

Key differences resolved in N.Korea nuclear talks

BEIJING (Reuters) - Six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear arms program early on Tuesday settled key differences that had blocked a draft disarmament deal, leaving the potential agreement needing approval from the countries’ capitals.

Top U.S. envoy to the six-party talks Christopher Hill speaks to the media at a hotel in Beijing February 12, 2007. REUTERS/Alfred Cheng Jin

The nuclear talks in Beijing have focused on how to begin implementing a September 2005 agreement that promised North Korea aid and security assurances in return for nuclear disarmament.

Negotiations appeared stuck on North Korea’s demands for a huge influx of energy aid. But intense discussions from Monday brought a breakthrough that could land a formal agreement later on Tuesday.

“There was an agreement on the key differences of North Korea’s actions for denuclearisation, their scope and how far they’ll go, and the other countries’ corresponding measures and the scale of assistance,” South Korean envoy Chun Yung-woo told reporters.

“North Korea basically agreed to all the measures in the draft.”

The draft agreement now needed the green light from respective capitals, the U.S. envoy Christopher Hill said.

“When you put out a final draft you’re expectation is that you’ve met everyone’s concerns,” he told reporters.

“Now it will be up to the Chinese to get formal approval from the different delegations. I think the Chinese will certainly be up to that task.”

The proposed plan will be only the first step in what Hill has called a step-by-step process of locating and dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons activities, which culminated in its first nuclear test blast in October.

“This is only one phase of denuclearisation. We’re not done,” said Hill.

But there is a gulf of distrust that divides the isolated North from other countries in the talks, especially the United States, and diplomats have stressed that even this initial disarmament action could founder.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters the six sides had held “extraordinarily intensive consultations.

“But we still have to have further discussions to confirm things. Because of this, we will continue the talks in the day time.” That meeting is due to begin at 0230 GMT.

Japan’s chief delegate, Kenichiro Sasae, also sounded a note of caution. “It is too early for me to say the draft is acceptable,” he told reporters. Sasae’s words were echoed by South Korea’s envoy Chun.

In the latest talks that began on Thursday, negotiators from North and South Korea, the United States, Russia, Japan and China agreed on most of an initial plan.

In the potential deal, North Korea has offered to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear plant, which produces plutonium usable in nuclear weapons, according to many diplomats close to the talks.

But energy compensation demands from Pyongyang had left the other countries suspicious about its willingness to fully scrap its nuclear arms capabilities.

A diplomatic source said North Korea had demanded the United States and four other countries provide it with 2 million tons of heavy fuel oil annually — worth about $600 million — and 2,000 megawatts of electricity.

The electricity, at an estimated cost of $8.55 billion over 10 years, would be about equal to North Korea’s current output.

Hill did not say how the energy dispute was solved.

“Everybody had to make some changes to try to narrow the differences,” he said.

Hill also said he did not know if North Korea’s leaders will approve the potential deal, but Pyongyang’s negotiators appeared to understand what they may sign up for.

In September 2005, North Korea agreed to a joint statement sketching out the nuclear disarmament steps Pyongyang needed to take to secure fuel and economic aid, as well as political acceptance from its key adversary, the United States.

But the deal fell by the way after Washington accused the North of counterfeiting U.S. currency and other illicit activities. That prompted Pyongyang to boycott the six-party talks until worldwide condemnation of its nuclear test drew it back in December.

Additional reporting by Ian Ransom and Teruaki Ueno in Beijing

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