U.S., North Korea see progress in nuclear talks

/ Source: The Associated Press

The United States and North Korea said they made good progress in talks Tuesday on resolving a deadlock over a disputed inventory of the communist nation's nuclear programs.

"I would say it was a good discussion," said U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the top U.S. negotiator with North Korea.

Hill said he and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan had "a full discussion on all issues" and agreed to report back to their respective capitals.

"I think, depending on what we hear back from the capitals by tomorrow, there will be some further announcements very soon," he said.

"If all goes well, I hope we can have some further statements in Beijing tomorrow which would involve some follow-on activities," he told reporters after the one-day talks. Both Hill and Kim were scheduled to leave for China — North Korea's main ally — early Wednesday, but on different flights.

Kim was more upbeat, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

"Differences have been narrowed a lot," Yonhap quoted Kim as telling Korean-speaking reporters. "I would say the talks were successful."

Neither he nor Hill provided any details.

Trying to break impasse
The two sides are trying to break an impasse over North Korea's pledge to provide a full inventory of its nuclear activities and facilities. It says it provided a list in November, but the U.S. says it was incomplete.

The disagreement has stalled six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear disarmament.

Hill said ultimately the full list "will need to be submitted to the Chinese and then we'll need to do a six-party meeting."

Before starting Tuesday's talks, Hill had made it clear time was running out and the two sides cannot afford any more delays. After the talks, he said the North Koreans "do understand the time sensitivity of all this."

The main sticking points are believed to be what North Korea will reveal about any nuclear know-how or materials it provided to other nations, and allegations it had a secret uranium enrichment program in addition to its known plutonium program.

North Korea began disabling its main nuclear facilities last year in exchange for aid and diplomatic concessions under an agreement with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States, the other countries in the six-party talks.

Most of the tasks to disable the facilities have been completed, with American experts working to ensure they would require at least a year to become operational again.

Hill has said he will meet with the head negotiators from South Korea, Japan and China in Beijing. He said he would also brief the Russian ambassador to China.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters at the State Department on Tuesday she only had a brief discussion with Hill about the talks and expected an in-depth report later in the day.

"I think that we have a lot of work to do with North Korea," Rice said. "If there has been some progress, that's a good thing, but we will have to assess what it is that is remaining to do."