BEIJING – Negotiators resumed talks Thursday on North Korea's nuclear disarmament, with hopes of laying out a program for what could be a lengthy attempt to verify the country's declaration of its atomic materials.
The latest round of six-nation talks comes after North Korea handed over the much-delayed list late last month and then blew up a cooling tower for its main nuclear reactor to demonstrate its commitment.
"I want to emphasize that all of us gathered here share the same strategic objectives," China's nuclear envoy Wu Dawei said at the start of the talks. "The ultimate objective is the realization of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula."
Wu said that steps forward, including the recent declaration, meant the hard work was paying off.
"All these successes have led us to believe that if we work together, stick to the guidelines and concepts, honor our commitments, the strategic goals will undoubtedly be realized," he said.
Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told reporters earlier that after agreeing on the verification process, the verification itself "will take several weeks or even months, actually."
Some basic agreements on the process include interviews with North Korean officials and site visits, Hill said. "There are a lot of details that need to be fleshed out," he said.
In response to North Korea's declaration, the United States announced it would remove the North from a list of state sponsors of terrorism and relax some economic sanctions against the communist nation.
The exchanges paved the way for the resumption of the six-nation meetings in Beijing after a nine-month lull. The talks also include South Korea, Japan and Russia.
The nuclear standoff began in late 2002 when the U.S. accused the North of seeking to secretly enrich uranium in violation of a 1994 disarmament deal.
The architect of Pakistan's nuclear program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, told The Associated Press last week that he recalled uranium enrichment equipment being sent from Pakistan to North Korea in 2000.
The United States had previously insisted that North Korea detail its alleged uranium enrichment program as well as nuclear cooperation with Syria in the declaration.
But Washington has apparently backed down from that demand, drawing criticism from American conservatives who say the Bush administration is going too far to strike a deal with the North before leaving office next year.
On Thursday, North Korea accused U.S. conservatives of trying to "scuttle the denuclearization process on the Korean peninsula."
"What should not be overlooked is that the U.S. conservative hard-liners have seriously misinterpreted (North Korea's) willingness and efforts for denuclearization in order to serve their interests," the North's official Korean Central News Agency said in a commentary.
"This proves what extent of their hostile policy toward (North Korea) has reached," it said.
North Korea's nuclear declaration, which was delivered six months later than the country promised, is said to only give the overall figure for how much plutonium was produced at its main Yongbyon nuclear complex — but no details of bombs that may have been made.
Experts believe the North has produced as much as 110 pounds of weapons-grade plutonium, enough for up to 10 nuclear bombs.