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US Wants North Korean Action Within Months
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Any steps agreed on by Pyongyang at talks this week on ending its nuclear arms program should be carried out within three months, but the talks in Beijing won't resolve everything, US envoy Christopher Hill said on Tuesday.

Diplomats have pointed to signs that North Korea may be ready to agree to an initial deal over demands that it stop building a nuclear arsenal in exchange for energy aid at the six-party talks, which resume in Beijing tomorrow.

Under a joint statement reached in September 2005, North Korea agreed to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for economic aid and security guarantees.

"The upcoming talks will explore initial steps needed to implement the joint statement," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a regular briefing Tuesday.

Hill, in Tokyo for bilateral talks before heading for Beijing today, told Japanese reporters that any actions identified or announced in Beijing should be implemented within "single-digit weeks," a US Embassy spokesman said.

Later, though, he said the Beijing talks would not lead to a complete resolution of the Korean nuclear issue.

"Whether we can make some progress, and I was emphasizing the fact that if we make some progress, we're not going to be able to resolve the nuclear issue and achieve the complete implementation of the September 2005 statement in one step," he told reporters after meeting Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki.

"We are going to need several steps."

North Korea agreed in September 2005 to scrap its nuclear weapons program in exchange for aid and security guarantees.

Hill said Pyongyang could demand that other parties provide it with fuel oil.

"I think it is quite possible that it will come up in the six-party context this weekend," he told reporters after meeting his Japanese counterpart, Kenichiro Sasae.

Japan, for its part, stuck to its tough stance of refusing to give North Korea aid unless Pyongyang settles a feud over Japanese kidnapped decades ago.

Japan faces dilemma

That could put Tokyo in a bind if this week's talks make progress toward ending the North's nuclear arms programs.

The matter of the abductees, spirited away from their homeland in the 1970s and 1980s to help train North Korea spies in Japanese language and culture, is an emotive one in Japan.

It is also high on the agenda of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who made his name by talking tough to Pyongyang and who is unlikely to soften that tone at a time when his public support rate is slipping ahead of an upper house election in July.

But Japan could be isolated from other partners at the talks if it keeps its tough stance, analysts said. "If Japan does not provide aid, it will be isolated. If it does give aid, then it will face harsh public opinion," said Noriyuki Suzuki, chief analyst at Tokyo-based Radio press news agency, which specializes in monitoring North Korean media.

(China Daily via agencies and Xinhua, February 7, 2007)

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