BEIJING – The top U.S. envoy urged delegates at the North Korean nuclear talks Wednesday to start hashing out details of a disarmament deal, warning the latest round negotiations could end with no real progress.
China's foreign minister echoed the called, urging all sides to live up to promises made in a September 2005 agreement for North Korea to disarm in exchange for economic aid and security guarantees. The six-nation talks started Monday after Pyongyang ended a 13-month boycott during which it tested its first nuclear bomb.
"The urgent thing is to make some plans to enact the joint statement and to realize all the commitments every party made," Li Zhaoxing said, according to a ministry statement. "We should make concerted efforts to overcome all differences in order for the talks to move forward and reach practical results."
Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said delegates should start working on a draft agreement if they hope to make any progress.
"If we are going to get to the end of the week and have something tangible, I think we probably need to be working at something on paper in the very near future," he told reporters shortly before Wednesday's meeting started.
"At this point I don't want to say I am pessimistic or optimistic," he said. "I just don't know where we are going to end up."
After the meeting, South Korean negotiator Chun Yung-woo said talks would run through Friday but cautioned there was no guarantee of a breakthrough.
"We had initially targeted to end the talks tomorrow, but since serious discussions are continuing ... we have agreed to continue the talks," he told reporters. "We cannot predict that we will be able to produce a document of breakthrough agreements after two days."
A South Korean news report said U.S. officials had outlined a process in which North Korea would first freeze its nuclear program, then allow inspections and eventually disarm.
As soon as North Korea allows the return of nuclear inspectors, Washington would be willing to provide a written pledge not to seek to topple the communist regime by force, the Yonhap news agency reported, citing diplomatic sources at the talks.
Hill has declined to release details of any U.S. proposals. Chun said only that the sides have discussed details of previously made proposals.
In separate talks, U.S. and North Korean financial experts met for five hours over Washington's campaign to isolate the regime from the international banking system.
The U.S. blacklisted a Macau bank where the North held accounts, accusing it of complicity in Pyongyang's alleged money laundering and counterfeiting of $100 bills. North Korea cited the measure in boycotting the nuclear talks.
Daniel Glaser, U.S. deputy assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes, said a resolution of the issue would require a "long-term process."
At the start of talks Monday, the North reiterated a slew of long-held demands, including an end to the U.S. financial restrictions as a precondition for disarming. The demands from a regime emboldened by its confirmed nuclear status have raised doubts about an imminent resolution to the standoff.
North Korea's state media kept up its tough rhetoric Wednesday.
"This is clear proof that (the U.S.) is seeking to vanquish (North Korea) with a military strong arm, whetting its sword of aggression under the mask of dialogue," the North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper wrote in a commentary, according to the country's official Korean Central News Agency.