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US/N. Korea: Six-Party Talks Recess a Busy Time

Six-Party Talks Recess Proves To Be a Busy Time for Negotiators

Diplomats clarifying points prior to resumption of nuclear talks

By Todd Bullock
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The current recess in the negotiations to end North Korea's nuclear weapons programs has proven to be a busy time for the participants of the Six-Party Talks.

Negotiators representing North and South Korea, China, Japan, Russia and the United States have been meeting to clarify positions for the resumption of the fourth round of talks.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with the South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki Moon in Washington on August 23 and will meet with senior Japanese and Chinese envoys later this week.

The leaders agreed that progress had been made during the most recent round of the Six-Party Talks, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said at an August 23 press briefing. The talks recessed August 7 after 13 days of negotiations in Beijing. No date has been set for their resumption, although original plans had aimed for the week of August 29.

There have also been contacts between State Department officials and North Korean representatives based at the United Nations, according to McCormack.

The U.S. special envoy for North Korea, Ambassador Joseph DeTrani, contacted the North Korean delegation at the United Nations last week to discuss a possible meeting prior to the resumption of negotiations, the spokesman said.

"We were in touch with them again yesterday to let them know that we wanted to do that," McCormack said at the August 23 briefing.

Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill, the chief U.S. negotiator for the Six-Party Talks, told reporters August 23 that the Chinese draft accord resulting from the latest round of talks has condensed various principles suggested by the participants. But he said he was not sure North Korea was using the recess to negotiate a set of principles outlining a Korean Peninsula free from nuclear weapons.

Hill acknowledged that North Korea's demand to be allowed to retain a civilian nuclear energy program has caused some disagreement, but he said he did not believe it would be a "showstopper" for the negotiations.

Nuclear reactors for North Korean civilian use are purely "theoretical" and a "practical impossibility" for many years, he said.

In an August 17 interview with The New York Times, Rice said, "I don't think anybody believes at this point in time that the North Koreans can be trusted with civilian nuclear power given that they turned a research reactor into a nuclear weapons plant."

One of the reasons a proposal by South Korea, offering the North a conventional electrical-power energy package if it abandons its nuclear ambitions, is so attractive is that it is a non-nuclear option for power generation in the North, she said.

Rice also said she believes North Korea is prepared to return to the Six-Party Talks to negotiate seriously but does not know whether that means Pyongyang has made the strategic choice to give up its nuclear weapons.

For additional information about the Six-Party Talks, see U.S. Policy Toward North Korea.

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