US: No Deadline Agreed at N.Korea Talks

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 26, 2005

BEIJING – Arms talks with North Korea failed to yield an agreement on a deadline for disabling its nuclear facilities, the U.S. said Thursday, dashing hopes for another disarmament breakthrough after the shutdown of Pyongyang’s sole reactor.

Given the problems meeting previous deadlines in the six-nation talks, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said the sides decided not to set a date by which the North would declare and disable its nuclear programs.

“Had we made our deadlines in the spring, I think there would have been much more appetite for deadlines now,” he told reporters.

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Still, Hill said he believed the North could complete those steps by the end of the year as Washington had hoped.

“I feel it’s quite feasible by the end of the year,” he said, adding nonetheless that he was pleased with what was accomplished

Before a firm deadline is set, Hill said working groups will meet likely by the end of August to discuss technical details on how to proceed.

The talks _ involving China, Japan, Russia, the United States and the two Koreas _ had been scheduled to end Thursday, but Hill said they were being extended by a day for the sides to meet with China’s foreign minister Friday before the Chinese hosts issued a statement summing up the session.

Hill had started the day Thursday urging negotiators to set a deadline to follow North Korea’s Saturday shutdown of its sole operating reactor at Yongbyon, 60 miles north of Pyongyang.

“We have to be careful about deadlines, but if you don’t have deadlines you’ll never get stuff done,” he said.

At the opening of the talks Wednesday, South Korea said North Korea offered by year’s end to disable its nuclear programs. Earlier Thursday, South Korea’s nuclear envoy Chun Yung-woo asserted the North promised it “would not drag its feet or make unreasonable demands in carrying out its obligations.”

The North twice boycotted the talks for more than a year and missed a deadline for shutting down its reactor by more than three months due to a separate bank dispute. The shutdown was the first step North Korea has taken to scale back its nuclear ambitions since the crisis began in late 2002.

By eventually disabling its nuclear facilities, North Korea would lose its ability to easily make more atomic weapons _ going beyond achievements at any previous arms negotiations with Pyongyang. The North conducted an underground nuclear test in October, confirming it could build a weapon.

North Korea has begun receiving 50,000 tons of oil from South Korea as a reward for the shutdown, and is to eventually receive the equivalent of a total of 1 million tons for disabling its nuclear facilities under a February agreement among the six countries.

In a blow to the disarmament process, the North slammed Japan for raising at the six-nation talks the issue of Japanese that the communist nation has admitted to abducting _ warning that it could pose “another crisis” in the drawn-out negotiations.

If Japan continues to refuse to participate in aid being offered for North Korea’s disarmament, “the nuclear issue on the peninsula will remain unsettled for an indefinite period,” the North’s Foreign Ministry said in a memorandum carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

The North’s angry statement on the abduction issue came Thursday just hours after a brief one-on-one meeting between the North Korean and Japanese envoys amid the disarmament talks.

Japan and North Korea have been at odds over the abductions, with Tokyo refusing to help fund any of the energy supplies Pyongyang is to receive for its disarmament until it is resolved.

During a 2002 summit in Pyongyang, North Korean leader Kim Jong Il admitted that 13 Japanese were kidnapped to train spies in Japanese culture. Five of them were released and Pyongyang said the others died, insisting the issue was settled.

But Japan remains skeptical and the issue has assumed central importance in the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe since he took office last year.

Associated Press writers Jae-soon Chang and Mari Yamaguchi, and Bo-mi Lim in Seoul, South Korea contributed to this report.

A service of the Associated Press(AP)