Six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear program resume after recess
BEIJING – North Korea insisted Tuesday it will not give up its right to civilian nuclear programs, raising questions about the possibility of a breakthrough as six-nation talks aimed at persuading Pyongyang to abandon its atomic weapons resumed after a five-week recess.Envoys from China, Japan, Russia, the United States and the two Koreas clasped hands together at a state guesthouse in Beijing before continuing the fourth round of talks since 2003 that have so far failed to resolve the standoff.Last month, negotiators took a break after a record 13 days of meetings ended without agreement on a statement of principles on the North’s disarmament.In New York on Tuesday, Chinese President Hu Jintao told President Bush that China was ready to “step up” pressure on Pyongyang for progress in the negotiations.”We stand ready to step up our communication and cooperation” to gain fresh progress in negotiations aimed at halting North Korea’s nuclear program, he said.Last month, negotiators took a break after a record 13 days of meetings ended without agreement. The main U.S. negotiator said it would likely be shorter than last time.”We should be able to wrap this up in a matter of days, not weeks,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said Tuesday evening.South Korea’s head negotiator Song Min-soon agreed, saying talks would continue until Friday at least and then all parties would consult on a possible closing date, according to official Xinhua News Agency.The issue of the North’s peaceful nuclear program will be raised at the talks but Hill emphasized the focus is on ridding the North of atomic weapons.”The fundamental question is whether (North Korea) is prepared to abandon its nuclear programs,” he said, noting those programs are involved in production of materials for nuclear weapons.Hill saw the North Korean delegation briefly Tuesday and said he planned a full one-on-one session with them Wednesday where their views would be made known.Contacts between U.S. and North Korean diplomats in New York in the past month failed to make any progress, Hill said earlier. But he said “their position does seem to be evolving a little,” without elaborating.Chief North Korean negotiator Kim Kye Gwan said before he left for Beijing that his country will not tolerate any obstruction to its right to a peaceful nuclear program, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported.”This right is neither awarded nor needs to be approved by others,” Kim said in Pyongyang, adding that the country would “utterly not accept” if Washington tries to block that right.Still, Kim said the North would attend the talks with a sincere and flexible attitude, according to Xinhua.The Chinese hosts also acknowledged the impasse over the North’s demand to keep its civilian nuclear program.”There is a major difference between the parties, that is the DPRK’s (North Korea’s) peaceful use of nuclear energy,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said.The South Korea negotiator urged envoys to be open-minded at the talks.”If each party can be a little more flexible in its position, there will be good results, but if they stick to their current position, good results will be hard to expect,” Song said as he arrived in Beijing.The two Koreas also began high-level talks Tuesday in Pyongyang separate from the nuclear forum, where the South proposed discussions on how to ease military tension and bring permanent peace to the divided peninsula. The Korean War ended in a 1953 cease-fire, leaving the two countries still at war. But reconciliation efforts have flourished since the first-and-only summit of their leaders in 2000.The latest nuclear standoff was sparked in late 2002 after U.S. officials accused North Korea of running a secret uranium enrichment program in violation of an earlier deal, in which the North had agreed to stop weapons development in exchange for energy aid and other incentives.The North has since denied having a uranium enrichment program, which would provide a way to create radioactive material for bombs other than its publicly acknowledged plutonium program.On Tuesday, the North again called the uranium allegations “a sheer fabrication” in a commentary by the North’s main Rodong Sinmun newspaper carried by the country’s official Korean Central News Agency.Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf told The New York Times in an interview released late Monday that he believed North Korea had obtained “probably a dozen” centrifuges – equipment needed to enrich uranium – from a network headed by the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program.However, hundreds of centrifuges are required to enrich enough uranium for a bomb, and there has been no publicized evidence the North has that many.