BEIJING – China said Friday the six nations working to disarm North Korea's nuclear program were getting closer to an agreement on ways to verify Pyongyang's declaration of its atomic materials.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang noted that "some positive progress had been made" but did not reveal any details. The U.S. envoy to the talks has said the verification process could take weeks or even months.
"Just what are the specific agreements on verification, I think the six parties will make an announcement soon," Qin told a news conference late Friday.
Separate working group meetings focused on the more technical aspects of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula as well as economic and energy cooperation with North Korea, he said.
The talks were scheduled to continue Saturday, but it was unclear whether it will be the last day.
"We're striving for it to end tomorrow ... each delegation is working toward that goal, not only to end tomorrow but to end with results," Qin said.
The current round of talks, the first in nine months, comes after North Korea handed over its much-delayed nuclear declaration late last month and then blew up the cooling tower at its main nuclear reactor to demonstrate its commitment to disarmament.
Energy-starved North Korea was promised fuel aid equivalent to 1 million tons of oil under a February 2007 disarmament deal. Japan has opted out of contributing, citing a lack of progress by North Korea in resolving the issue of its abductions of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and '80s. North Korea has complained that countries involved in the talks have supplied only 40 percent of promised energy shipments.
"Japan and North Korea have some problems in their relations," Qin said, adding China hoped that they can resolve their differences through dialogue and negotiations.
Kim Sook, Seoul's nuclear envoy, told reporters the six parties had "extensive discussions" and that some common ground had been reached on verification, monitoring and energy aid to North Korea.
The six nation talks also include Russia.
In response to Pyongyang's nuclear declaration last month, the United States announced it would remove the North from a list of state sponsors of terrorism and relax some economic sanctions against it.
The steps paved the way for the resumption of the six-nation meetings in Beijing. Those talks had been on hold since last October.
The nuclear standoff began in late 2002 when the U.S. accused North Korea of seeking to secretly enrich uranium in violation of a 1994 disarmament deal.
North Korea's nuclear declaration, delivered six months later than the country promised, is said to 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 North Korea has produced as much as 110 pounds (50 kilograms) of weapons-grade plutonium, enough for up to 10 nuclear bombs.