updated 11/9/2005 12:13:20 PM ET 2005-11-09T17:13:20

Negotiators trying to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions focused Wednesday on the contentious details of how the North will disarm and what it will get in exchange, with the U.S. and North Korean delegations holding a separate meeting.

Host China said little progress had been made by day’s end in the new round of six-nation talks.

Before the talks opened Wednesday morning at a Chinese government guesthouse, Washington affirmed its refusal even to discuss the North’s demand for a civilian nuclear reactor until after Pyongyang disarms.

The last round of talks ended in September with North Korea’s pledge to give up nuclear development in exchange for aid and a security guarantee. But the North raised doubts about its willingness to proceed by demanding a civilian nuclear reactor before it disarms.

The U.S. envoy warned that Washington will not discuss giving the North a reactor until it returns to the international Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and accepts safeguards from the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency.

“First they have got to disarm, create a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, and once they are back in the NPT with IAEA safeguards, at an appropriate time we’ll have a discussion about the subject of the provision of a light-water reactor,” said Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill.

China: Flexibility a must
The Chinese delegate, Wu Dawei, whose government appealed in advance for participants to be ready to make progress in the slow-moving talks, called on negotiators to be flexible and pragmatic.

In his opening statement, he asked negotiators to “put forward proposals and ideas so that we will be able to work out an implementation plan that is acceptable to all sides at an early date.”

By day’s end, little progress had been made, said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang.

“We still can see that various parties have a difference of views on how to implement the joint statement and on the way it should be implemented,” Qin said at a briefing.

But, “all the six parties are working earnestly,” he said.

The talks involve the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia.

The North’s envoy, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan, said Pyongyang would insist on verifying there are no nuclear weapons in South Korea and demand a guarantee from the United States that it has no plans to attack North Korea, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported.

The United States has maintained it has no plans to invade the North.

In an editorial in the state-run media, Pyongyang also blasted Washington on Wednesday for its plan to station a nuclear aircraft carrier in Japan, saying it threatened to “ignite a new war.”

No breakthrough expected
The U.S. and North Korean delegations held a bilateral meeting Wednesday afternoon but no details were immediately available, a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman said on condition of anonymity, as is embassy policy.

The American delegation also held bilateral talks with each of the other four delegations, the spokeswoman said.

The dispute erupted in late 2002 after Washington said North Korea admitted operating a secret uranium enrichment program in violation of a 1994 deal that gave the isolated country energy aid in exchange for renouncing atomic weapons.

China says it expects this week’s talks to last three days and then recess so diplomats can attend an Asian-Pacific economic conference in South Korea this month.

Political analysts say they do not expect any breakthroughs in this round of talks.

North Korea’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper on Wednesday criticized U.S. plans to deploy a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in Japan in 2008.

“The Korean people are closely following the U.S. imperialists’ moves to ignite a new war and keeping themselves fully ready to cope with it,” the editorial said, according to a report by the North’s KCNA news agency.

China praises participants
China continued its efforts to moderate expectations, saying the meeting already can be considered a success because the latest round of talks were underway, as planned.

“All the six parties have in their real actions shown to the outside world that they are conducting the fifth round of talks on time and that they are sincere in implementing the joint statement,” Qin said. “This represents a political will that they are sincere in pushing forward the ultimate goal of the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

“That in itself is a sign of success.”

N. Korea’s arsenal

South Korea’s envoy, Deputy Foreign Minister Song Min-soon, said the current session was unlikely to result in an agreement but rather would be focused on the preliminary work necessary to get an implementation agreement in the next phase.

Japan’s chief envoy, Kenichiro Sasae, suggested Wednesday that delegates set up two working groups, one to address North Korea’s nuclear dismantlement and verification, and another to discuss economic and energy aid to Pyongyang, the Kyodo news agency reported.

Song said he believed it was too early to set up working groups before a basic framework for progress was in place.

Tensions between the United States and North Korea have risen after the North on Tuesday condemned President Bush for calling its leader a “tyrant,” saying the criticism raised doubts about the prospect of the six-nation talks.

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