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6-Party Talks: 'Intensive' Bilateral Discussions Held
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The six-party talks aiming to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula have entered a stage of "earnest, candid and pragmatic discussion on substantial issues," the Chinese Foreign Ministry said yesterday amid indications that the latest round would end today.


"All parties hope to continue to make concerted efforts to press ahead," ministry spokesman Qin Gang told a regular news briefing.


Qin's remarks came amid hopes for a breakthrough in the multilateral negotiations, involving host China, the US, Russia, Japan, North and South Korea.


Negotiators held "intensive" bilateral consultations at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing yesterday, the Chinese delegation's spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, told reporters.


Their discussions centered around seeking specific actions to implement a September 2005 joint statement, through which North Korea committed to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for economic aid and security guarantees.


However, it boycotted the talks two months later in protest against US financial sanctions.


The top US negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, said last night that his delegation would hold another one-on-one meeting with North Korea before the current round of talks ends today.


The chief antagonists met again yesterday to try to narrow their differences, their third direct contact in the talks, which opened on Monday after a 13-month hiatus.


Yesterday's discussion appeared to focus on a new set of improved incentives for North Korea to give up its nuclear program.


Ahead of yesterday's talks, Hill called on North Korea not to let the financial issue divert the negotiations. "I'd rather not obscure that urgent problem (of denuclearization) by talking about finances," he said.


However, Japanese chief negotiator Kenichiro Sasae told reporters later yesterday the talks "are in an extremely difficult situation" due to North Korea's insistence on the US taking the first step and lifting financial sanctions.


"The situation is extremely difficult, and there is no prospect of a breakthrough," said Sasae, director-general of Japanese Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau.


"The biggest reason for the difficulty is that there is no sign of flexibility" on the part of North Korea over the financial restrictions, he said.


Liu Jiangyong, a professor of international relations at Tsinghua University, said a document like a joint statement or communiqué could be released at the end of the current round to pave the way for the next round of talks.


"The frequent bilateral contacts between the US and North Korea during this phase of the talks show Washington has changed its tone in dealing with Pyongyang's nuclear program," Liu told China Daily.


"The Bush administration wants a Christmas gift, particularly considering the pressure of domestic politics, so it might make some concessions during the give-and-take process."


(China Daily December 22, 2006)

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