BEIJING – Negotiators are sticking to a year-end target for the disablement of North Korea's nuclear program, a U.S. envoy said Thursday after the start of the latest round of six-nation disarmament talks.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said a draft joint statement covering a disablement plan was expected to be circulated at talks Friday.
"We hope to agree on a kind of road map that will take us through to the end of the year," Hill told reporters. "Of course, the key for us would be the disablement steps that would be agreed and then the declaration."
Hill and his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye-gwan agreed at talks in Geneva earlier this month on the disablement goal by the end of the year, although the specifics were not worked out.
Hill and Kim, plus envoys from China, Russia, Japan and South Korea will try to fill in the details during the talks in Beijing that last until Sunday.
Under a February agreement, North Korea will be provided with 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil, or the monetary equivalent in other aid and assistance. In return, North Korea agreed to shut down its main nuclear reactor — which it did in July — and then declare and ultimately dismantle all its nuclear programs.
"(The joint statement) will be more specific in terms of timing. Also it has to lay out how the fuel oil is provided, so it would be more detailed," Hill said after a day of bilateral meetings and then an hour of talks among all six envoys at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse.
China's Foreign Ministry said Thursday that Beijing had delivered a second batch of oil to Pyongyang, part of the total of 50,000 tons it has pledged to give. No details were provided.
Hill said the joint statement would cover uranium enrichment issues as well as weapons-grade plutonium that has already been produced. He did not provide details.
North Korea has a plutonium-producing nuclear reactor, and there have been allegations that North Korea has a second, undeclared nuclear weapons program using enriched uranium. North Korea has said it was willing to discuss the issue, although it did not acknowledge having such a program.
The talks, which have dragged on for more than three years during which North Korea successfully detonated a nuclear device, come after Israeli warplanes attacked a Syrian installation on Sept. 6.
Foreign news reports have cited officials and experts as saying the strike targeted either arms meant for Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon or some sort of nonconventional weapons target, perhaps a joint Syrian-North Korean nuclear project. Syria has denied both claims, and North Korea has denied a nuclear link with Damascus.
Israel has not confirmed the attack or commented about it.
Chun Yung-woo, the chief South Korean delegate, said there were still some differences between what North Korea was intending to do on disablement and what the other countries wanted done.
"Still, North Korea has a strong resolve to obtain results from this six-party talks, and other countries also want to obtain results. So I believe it's not impossible to overcome that difference," Chun told reporters.
Japanese envoy Kenichiro Sasae described Thursday's talks as "a polite exchange where we discussed some ideas."
The talks in Beijing are the first since Yasuo Fukuda replaced Shinzo Abe as Japan's prime minister earlier this month, but Tokyo's insistence on focusing on the issue of Japanese citizens kidnapped by the North is unlikely to change.
North Korea admitted in 2002 that it had kidnapped 13 Japanese citizens and allowed five to return home, saying the others were dead. Many in Japanese believe more victims remain in the communist country, and the government has refused to contribute aid to North Korea under the February agreement.
"Our basic stance to seek for comprehensive solution on the issues of the abductions, nuclear and security remains the same," Sasae said before the meeting.