North Korea’s main nuclear envoy said Tuesday that his country won’t give up its nuclear weapons until an alleged U.S. nuclear threat against the communist nation is eliminated, the first public comments from the North after eight days of six-party negotiations.
Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan said “differences in opinions” remained between the North and the United States.
“Our decision is to give up nuclear weapons and programs related to nuclear weapons if the United States removes its nuclear threat against us and when trust is built,” Kim said outside the North Korean Embassy in Beijing.
The North has alleged the United States has nuclear weapons in South Korea, a claim both Seoul and Washington deny. However, the North could also be referring to other American forces across the region, where U.S. forces have maintained a strong presence since the end of World War II.
Despite the disagreements, Kim said the North still looked to “narrow these differences as much as we can to present results.”
Struggling for consensus
Top envoys from all six countries on Tuesday discussed a draft of a proposed statement of principles as they struggled with North Korea’s demands for what it should receive if it disarms.
As a result of the latest meeting, China proposed a new draft “that reflects a balance” of what was discussed, South Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Song Min-soon said Tuesday evening. He said meetings would continue Wednesday on the proposal.
Delegates at the talks expressed frustration over the lack of progress earlier Tuesday before heading into the first meeting of all head delegates since Saturday.
Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura told reporters in Tokyo that the talks would “take more time.”
“I can’t say discussions on the wording of the agreement are going smoothly,” Machimura said. “North Korea continues to deny that it has a uranium enrichment program.”
U.S. envoy: 'I don’t know where we go with this'
U.S. officials said in late 2002 that the North admitted to violating a 1994 deal by embarking on a secret uranium enrichment program, sparking the latest nuclear standoff.
“I don’t know where we go with this,” the chief U.S. delegate, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, said before Tuesday’s meetings.
His South Korean counterpart, Song Min-soon, added: “In the current situation, we are almost running out of wisdom.”
Unlike previous negotiations where the sides failed to agree on a joint statement, delegates this time have set no deadline for the talks and appeared determined to work out a declaration.
No details of any drafts have been released, but reports have said it would mention energy aid and a security guarantee for Pyongyang and eventually normalized political relations with Washington.
“We’ll stay here as long as we feel we’re making progress,” Hill said late Monday. “If we’re not making progress, we’re not going to stay.”
Analysts: Too soon to tell
Despite delegates’ pessimistic tone, analysts cautioned it was too soon to talk about deadlock.
“North Korea has a tendency to use brinkmanship in the last stage to get maximum concessions,” said Ko Yu-hwan, professor of North Korean studies at South Korea’s Dongguk University. “The pessimistic atmosphere or last-minute struggle can, in a way, be seen as a sign that we are close to getting results from the talks.”
In February, the North claimed it had nuclear weapons and has since has claimed it has taken steps that would allow it to harvest more plutonium for possible use in bombs. Many experts believe the North already has enough weapons-grade material for about a half-dozen atomic weapons.