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Talks over North Korea's nuclear program end in impasse

BEIJING—The first disarmament talks since North Korea tested a nuclear device in early October ended Friday with the North refusing to discuss abandoning its nuclear weapons until the United States lifts financial sanctions.

The U.S. envoy to the six-nation talks, Christopher Hill, voiced disappointment at the stalemate but said negotiations are likely to restart within "weeks, not months."

China sought to put the best face on the impasse. Chinese envoy Wu Dawei read a short statement saying that the weeklong talks unfolded with a "candid and in-depth exchange of views." Wu added that the two Koreas, Russia, Japan, the United States and China all reaffirmed the goal of seeking the peaceful denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

But the deadlock, coming 10 weeks after North Korea's Oct. 9 nuclear test, underscored that Pyongyang still hasn't fully committed to dismantling its nuclear program in exchange for financial and energy aid, security guarantees and diplomatic recognition.

Wu said the envoys agreed "to reconvene at the earliest opportunity."

Since the talks began Monday, North Korean envoy Kim Kye-gwan insisted that the United States lift unilateral sanctions dating to September 2005, which targeted Banco Delta Asia, a Macau bank accused of helping North Korea launder money and counterfeit U.S. cash. The sanctions affected some $24 million in bank assets and have largely cut North Korea's access to global financial networks.

Washington created the expectation that it might be flexible on the sanctions. As an inducement to end the North's 13-month boycott of the talks, Washington agreed to create a bilateral working group with Pyongyang to discuss the sanctions. The working group met for two days during the week and agreed to convene early next year.

In a news conference, Kim said that his nation, formally known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or DPRK, would never discuss nuclear disarmament so long as the U.S. sanctions remain in effect.

"How can the DPRK go into such an important discussion on halting nuclear facilities and also give up the deterrent which aims at safeguarding its sovereignty under such pressure by the United States?" Kim said.

Kim said the lifting of the U.S. sanctions would "create a good atmosphere" for the next round of talks. His nation has agreed to the eventual denuclearization of the peninsula, he said, but he added that it will bolster its nuclear arsenal so long as it feels threatened by the United States.

Japan's chief envoy, Kenichiro Sasae, blamed North Korea for refusing to discuss disarmament during the talks.

"Unfortunately, we were not able to see any kind of concrete progress (over nuclear disarmament) because North Korea persisted with the financial issue, which is not related to the main topic," Sasae said.

Hill said the North Korean envoys arriving for the talks were never given authorization to discuss any issue except the financial sanctions.

"By the end of the week it was clear the North Korean negotiating team didn't have instructions to negotiate on the proposal we put forward," Hill said.

Earlier in the day, Hill accused the North of failing to take the issue of denuclearization seriously.

"When the (North) raises problems, one day it's financial issues, another day it's something they want but they know they can't have, another day it's something we said about them that hurt their feelings," Hill said. "What they need to do is to get serious about the issue that made them such a problem ... their nuclear activities."

A Chinese scholar said breaking the deadlock over the U.S. financial sanctions is critical to moving ahead on more substantive disarmament issues.

"Let's wait and see what will happen during the next round of talks on financial sanctions in January. I think that will be the crucial part in making a breakthrough," said Cui Yingjiu, a retired Korea scholar at Peking University.


(McClatchy special correspondent Fan Linjun contributed from Beijing.)


(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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