BEIJING – Delegates to North Korean disarmament talks said Wednesday they were approaching the final stages of discussions but that a resolution to the dispute over the communist nation's nuclear weapons program ultimately lay in its own hands.
Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill (search), the top U.S. envoy, called Wednesday's negotiations the "lightest day yet."
"One does get the sense that we're getting to the endgame here," he said.
Envoys from the two Koreas, the United States, Japan (search) and Russia were proposing suggestions on the latest draft of principles crafted by host China meant to move the stalled negotiations forward.
Kenichiro Sasae, Japan's chief negotiator, said delegates were "in the process of finalizing the draft."
Hill did not give any details on the day's talks but said Washington had offered its response to the draft. It was not clear if North Korea (search) had done the same or whether it had any objections, he said.
Hill held one-on-one talks Wednesday with several delegations but not the North Koreans, and there was no meeting of all six delegation heads.
Negotiators agreed to meet again Thursday, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Earlier Wednesday, Hill said the North Koreans would "decide on their own" whether to agree to the draft. "They're not going to listen to pressure from me," he said.
"In a very real sense, (North Korea) really does stand at a crossroads and they can look forward to a brighter future, a more secure future, a more prosperous future," Hill said. "But they really can't do it with nuclear weapons. They've really got to get off that."
Although Hill has previously raised the possibility the talks could take a recess without an agreement, he said Wednesday evening the Americans hadn't yet proposed that to the other five countries at the talks.
"We came here to try to reach an agreement," he said.
The talks have now lasted three times longer than any of the three previous rounds.
The North has insisted that it doesn't want to give up its nuclear program without receiving anything first, while Washington is wary of Pyongyang's promises and instead wants to see the weapons verifiably eliminated before giving any rewards.
Japanese Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura, commenting in Tokyo on the talks to a parliamentary committee Wednesday, said disputes were centered on to what extent the North's nuclear program should be dismantled and whether it should retain the right to peaceful use of nuclear technology.
Hill said the draft is "really designed to narrow the differences and maybe, maybe even get to the point where we can really agree on something."
Song Min-soon, South Korea's representative, said the text includes a clause about normalizing Pyongyang's relations with Washington and Tokyo — a sticking point in previous rounds.
The draft "contains items North Korea wants in return for dismantling its nuclear program ... the part about normalizing relations is certainly included," Song said.
"I expect positive responses," he said, adding the draft "makes every country a winner."
In February, the North claimed it had nuclear weapons and has since taken steps that would allow it to harvest more plutonium for possible use in bombs. Many experts believe the North already has enough weapons-grade material for about a half-dozen atomic weapons.
In its first public statement since the talks began, Pyongyang said Tuesday that it wants to narrow differences with the United States but also insisted it won't give up its atomic weapons program until Washington withdraws alleged threats.
U.S. officials said in late 2002 that the North admitted violating a 1994 deal by embarking on a secret uranium enrichment program, sparking the latest nuclear crisis.