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New Round of N. Korea Nuclear Talks Hits Impasse

BY Admin  December 10, 2008 at 11:50 AM EST

U.S. envoy Christopher Hill in Beijing; AP Photo

The talks — involving envoys from North and South Korea, the United States, Japan, Russia and China — focused on a proposal to require a sampling of atomic material as a form of nuclear development regulation — a condition the North Korean government is refusing to accept.

Host China distributed a draft agreement to the five other countries involved in the talks but delegates were not able to agree, Hill said.

“It’s not trending in the right direction. … We had some real difficulties,” Hill said, after what he called a “tough, long day” of negotiations, according to Reuters. “We have not achieved our goal,” he said.

“We have not resolved (differences) in views over nuclear verification,” Japan’s negotiator, Akitaka Saiki, said of the talks, according to the Kyodo news service.

The testing of nuclear samples may prove a critical sticking point in the talks, analysts say.

“North Korea will never allow sampling in the second-phase process because it is a bargaining chip it wants to hold on to until the last moment of the talks,” Koh Yu-hwan of Dongguk University told Reuters.

A landmark 2007 disarmament pact — made with the United States, China, South Korea, Russia and Japan — called on Pyongyang to give up and disable its nuclear program in exchange for energy aid. Those negotiations have since hit several starts and stops since.

Last October, the United States announced it was removing North Korea from its terrorism blacklist to reward the country for its denuclearization efforts, but the North Korean government has still balked at full compliance with nuclear inspection and verification procedures.

Complicating Wednesday’s three-hour talks was disagreement over a U.S. report claiming North Korea has officially been listed as a nuclear state.

North Korea’s state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper said Wednesday the United States has officially listed North Korea as a nuclear power for the first time, and the shift represents move toward more aggressive policy.

“The U.S. bellicose forces are escalating their moves for pre-emptive attack on the DPRK (North Korea) behind the scene of the six-party talks,” the paper said, according to the Associated Press. “This is a reckless military action going against the trend of the present situation and little short of planting a time-bomb in the way of the six-party talks.”

U.S. officials said North Korea has not been added to the list of nuclear powers, and that the report referred to by North Korean media is purely speculative. The report, issued by the U.S. Joint Forces Command last week, included North Korea among regional “nuclear powers,” along with China, India, Pakistan and Russia, the AP reported.

“As a matter of policy, we do not recognize North Korea as a nuclear state,” said Defense Department spokesman Steward Upton, according to Bloomberg. “What was contained in a recent Joint Forces Command report does not reflect official U.S. government policy regarding the status of North Korea.”

It was unclear Wednesday whether talks in Beijing would continue Thursday, but North Korean envoy Kim Sook said his country is interested in continuing negotiations.

“We are making efforts to reach an agreement by removing misunderstandings caused by ambiguous expressions, and by replacing them with clearly verifiable and transparent expressions,” he said, according to Bloomberg News. “It’s not that we have narrowed differences in our opinions but that we are in a process of reflecting the opinions of individual countries through more in-depth discussions.”

In a separate report issued this week, the United Nation warned that North Korea, long plagued by famine and economic problems due to its political isolation, will “urgently” need food aid for 40 percent of its population.

The country is facing a shortfall of more than 800,000 tons of grain for the year through October 2009, in what is likely to be a third straight year of dropping food production, the report said, according to Bloomberg News.