Delegates have opened the latest round of six-party talks on dismantling North Korea's nuclear programme amid only modest expectations for progress among envoys from the two Koreas, Japan, the United States, China and Russia.
AFP - Senior envoys from six countries opened the latest round of talks in Beijing on dismantling North Korea's nuclear programmes on Monday amid gloom about the prospects for progress.
The talks, likely a last-ditch effort by the administration of outgoing US President George W. Bush to move ahead on one of its most drawn-out diplomatic issues, began late in the afternoon, host nation China said.
Hope for any progress has been dimmed by North Korea's opposition to the idea of atomic samples from its sites being taken away by inspectors.
"I am afraid nobody among my counterparts saw any optimism in the prospects of the upcoming six-party talks," South Korea's chief delegate Kim Sook said before the session began. "Let's wait and see."
He told reporters he hoped the North Koreans were not "dragging their feet" while waiting to gauge the stance of the incoming administration of Barack Obama, who takes office next month.
Chief US negotiator Christopher Hill also expressed only modest expectations.
"We've prepared well for the meetings so we'll see if it's possible to get anything done. We're not trying to solve all the problems," he said.
"Like all six-party meetings, it's going to be a difficult negotiation."
The talks, grouping the United States, the two Koreas, China, Russia and Japan, got under way at a government compound in western Beijing despite the North's apparent refusal to deal with Japan.
North Korea said Saturday it would not recognise Japan's participation in protest over Tokyo's refusal to provide energy aid under an accord that offered Pyongyang energy and diplomatic concessions in return for denuclearisation.
"We will neither treat Japan as a party to the talks nor deal with it even if it impudently appears in the conference room, lost to shame," the communist country's foreign ministry said in a statement.
However, a South Korean official indicated the talks kicked off with all delegates present.
Several of the delegations held preliminary bilateral meetings, including the two Korean teams.
"Bilateral relations also have significance for making progress in the six-party talks," chief South Korean negotiator Kim said before meeting with his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye-Gwan.
The current round of talks was expected to focus on how to verify North Korea's declaration of its nuclear facilities.
Under a landmark 2007 pact, Pyongyang agreed to disable facilities at its plutonium-producing Yongbyon nuclear complex and reveal its atomic activities.
In return, it was to get one million tonnes of fuel oil or energy aid of equivalent value. About half of that has been delivered.
Japan has withheld its share until North Korea accounts fully for Japanese nationals kidnapped by Pyongyang during the Cold War.
The North has admitted it seized some Japanese to train its spies, and in 2002 let five return. It insists the others are dead, but Japan believes they are alive.
In October, after an apparent agreement on verification procedures, the United States said it would drop North Korea from a terrorism blacklist, and the North reversed plans to restart its plutonium-producing nuclear plants.
But the process has hit a new snag, with North Korea, which tested an atomic weapon in October 2006, resisting the idea of letting inspectors take away samples.
Date created : 2008-12-08