updated 9/30/2007 9:59:56 AM ET 2007-09-30T13:59:56

Six-nation disarmament talks on North Korea ended Sunday without an expected agreement and with envoys instead opting to send a detailed, draft plan on shuttering the North’s nuclear programs to their governments for approval.

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The four days of talks, which began on an optimistic note after North Korea agreed to disable its programs by year’s end, were supposed to set specifics for the disabling, among other issues.

Envoys described the talks as recessed, and host China said that they may reconvene in 48 hours depending on what the six governments — China, the U.S., Japan, Russia and the two Koreas — decide about the draft blueprint.

The draft “lays out an entire roadmap until the end of the year” for the North’s nuclear disarmament, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told reporters before boarding a plane for New York.

“We’re into the nuts and bolts now of implementing de-nuclearization,” Hill said. The level of detail, he said, made it necessary for him to return to Washington for consultations.

Though Hill declined to disclose details and the draft was not released, South Korean envoy Chun Yung-woo said the proposed blueprint set some deadlines for North Korea and for the other parties to meet.

The recess is the latest glitch for the six as they try to push forward a February agreement under which communist, impoverished North Korea agreed to declare and dismantle all its nuclear programs in return for 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil or other assistance.

Four years of talks
The latest talks aimed to set terms for the North’s declaration and the dismantling that under the February deal should have been agreed to five months ago.

Talks have dragged on for four years but if ultimately successful would roll back a nuclear program that a year ago allowed North Korea to detonate a nuclear device and that experts say may have produced more than a dozen nuclear bombs.

Though some negotiators may remain in Beijing to resume the talks, no members of the U.S. delegation were staying behind to take part in further negotiations, the U.S. Embassy said.

Envoys characterized the meeting as a step forward. South Korea’s Chun said the draft represented “a tentative agreement among the chief envoys.” He praised North Korea — an often stubborn negotiator — for showing flexibility.

“Many countries exerted the spirit of compromise. In particular, North Korea made many concessions,” Chun told reporters. “The North showed its resolve to bring an agreement home. They expressed enthusiasm and made many concessions.”

Under terms in the draft, North Korea reiterated its Dec. 31 deadline for declaring and disabling its nuclear programs and accepted that other parties would not be able to deliver all aid within that time, Chun said. He said that South Korea by year’s end would only have delivered about a third of the economic and energy assistance it promised.

While the U.S. also restated its intention eventually to remove North Korea from a list of countries that sponsor terrorism, the draft did not set a deadline, Chun said.

Envoys, however, did not comment on whether the draft addressed earlier sticking points. During the recent talks, disagreement arose over the definition of disabling. Hill, the U.S. envoy, said earlier that the U.S. wants a dismantling process that means a nuclear facility could not be made operational for at least 12 months.

Washington also wants North Korea to declare a suspected uranium enrichment program along with the plutonium program that has produced nuclear bomb material.

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