BEIJING – North Korea (search) criticized the United States for insisting it give up all its nuclear programs without receiving any concessions first, saying Friday it will not abandon nuclear weapons (search) development until given a reactor.
Striving to bridge the impasse, China (search) suggested during the six-nation talks that the North give up its nuclear weapons program but be allowed to continue nuclear power activities.
U.S. and Chinese officials met Saturday to discuss the proposed compromise.
"China has given us a text to react to so we're looking at it," the chief U.S. envoy, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, said Saturday morning as he left his hotel. "We'll see where we go ... It's been a fairly fast pace in the last 24 hours."
Hill refused to comment on the text of the Chinese proposal and gave no indication whether Washington would accept it. But the Japanese envoy to the talks said none of the participants were fully satisfied with China's suggestions.
"I don't think that we can see the prospects for reaching an agreement yet," Kenichiro Sasae, director of the Asia and Oceania Bureau at Japan's Foreign Ministry, told reporters.
South Korea's chief envoy Song Min-soon said Saturday that he would meet with other sides at the talks to "try and bring out good results."
Earlier Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hinted Washington's patience is running out.
The North so far has spurned an offer of economic aid, security guarantees, diplomatic recognition and energy aid from South Korea, saying it wants a light-water nuclear reactor for generating power in return for dismantling its atomic weapons program.
"If the United States continues to assert that it cannot give us a light-water reactor that will be the barometer for trust, for us, we cannot stop our way of peaceful nuclear activities for one moment," North Korean spokesman Hyun Hak Bong told reporters.
Washington has insisted the North cannot be trusted with any nuclear program given its history of pursuing atomic bombs and has refused to budge from demanding that the North disarm first before any concessions are made.
"These demands are that we first disarm, but we think these are very naive," Hyun said. Washington "should not even dream" about the North accepting such "brigandish" demands, he said.
Rice, in a newspaper interview, said the North had a matter of days to show its willingness to disarm, suggesting the United States would not continue the talks indefinitely.
"We'll see, I think in the next ... four or five days, whether or not they're prepared to make a strategic choice about their nuclear weapons programs," Rice told the New York Post in an interview released Thursday by the State Department. "That will show us whether we can get a deal."
In February, the North publicly claimed it had nuclear weapons, but it has not performed any known tests that would confirm it can make them. Experts have said they believe the North is capable of building about six bombs.
Rice said Washington was taking measures to stop the spread of nuclear technology regardless of what happens at the North Korea talks, through intelligence sharing and freezing of assets of those involved.
"We're not sitting still, you know, we're working on anti-proliferation measures that help to protect us," she said. "So we're not wholly dependent on negotiations to get this done."
Rice spoke before the new Chinese proposal Friday allowing the North to keep a nuclear program for peaceful use, according to Russia's chief envoy.
The draft contains "compromise wording which could satisfy both sides," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Alexeyev said, referring to Washington and Pyongyang.
Hill did not make his usual evening meeting with reporters Friday and instead was holed up at the embassy, apparently consulting with Washington over the new proposal.
"I keep my fingers crossed because still nothing is accepted," Alexeyev said.
The North Korean spokesman said his country would be willing to see the nuclear reactor co-managed and would make it open to international inspections. It was unclear if those comments would make any difference to the U.S. side, which has branded the idea a "nonstarter."
The North was promised two light-water reactors under a 1994 deal that fell apart in late 2002 after the latest nuclear crisis erupted. Light-water reactors are less easily diverted for weapons use.
Earlier Friday, Hill met with his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye Gwan and said they had "good" discussions.
"At this point, I don't know where these will lead," Hill said of the meetings, speaking after a lunch with the South Korean and Japanese negotiators. However, he added: "We are still in business."
Hill also urged Beijing to seek to persuade North Korea, its longtime ally, to give up its nuclear weapons without receiving a reactor.
The North and South have continued reconciliation efforts aside from the nuclear standoff. On Friday at high-level talks between the two sides in Pyongyang, the Koreas pledged to work to ensure peace and reduce military tensions on the divided peninsula.