BEIJING – China (search) proposed a draft statement of basic negotiating principles Saturday at six-nation nuclear talks aimed at convincing North Korea to disarm, and the U.S. envoy called it a good basis for future sessions.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill (search) said he could not give an end date for the talks, which already had stretched into an unprecedented fifth day Saturday. But he said he doubted they would finish this weekend because much work remains.
"Today was the first opportunity, really, to take something that could become the final document and try to see if we can reach agreement on it," Hill said.
He would not give details but said "we think it's a good basis" for negotiation.
Hill met with his North Korean counterpart for a fifth day Saturday, while delegates from all six governments met to work on the statement.
South Korea, Japan and Russia (search) are the other governments involved in the talks, which began in 2003 and are now in their fourth round.
Diplomats in Beijing would not give any details of the Chinese draft statement.
But the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri, citing officials it did not identify, said the delegates had "roughly agreed" to a draft document that would offer North Korea a safety guarantee, a mention of economic assistance and a promise of normalized relations with the United States.
It does not say in detail how the North would abandon its nuclear program or what it would get in return.
Earlier, Hill said negotiators would be working on the statement, but "it's going to take a while."
"It is not going to be finished today or even tomorrow, because even though the texts will be rather brief, they're rather important, too," he said as he left his hotel Saturday morning.
The negotiations, renewed this week after a 13-month hiatus, have produced no breakthroughs and their most significant achievement appears to be that the Americans and North Koreans have continued talking.
According to Hill, the United States and North Korea remained split over the North's demand for U.S. concessions before giving up its nuclear weapons program and its insistence on having a peaceful atomic energy project.
Hill said the aim of the current round of talks was to agree on a set of principles as a basis for later negotiations.
"There is a growing consensus that where we end up is the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula — that is, no nuclear weapons, no nuclear weapons programs ... no nuclear programs that could conceivably be nuclear weapons programs," he said.
The North says it wants aid and concessions before giving up its nuclear program, while Washington wants to see the program eliminated before it rewards the North.
Hill said the North also has insisted it should have the right to use peaceful nuclear technology for power generation if it rejoins the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The United States maintains the North should not be allowed to do so because of proliferation concerns.
South Korea has offered the North 2 million kilowatts of electricity a year in exchange for giving up its nuclear program — an offer that helped lure Pyongyang back to nuclear talks.
The United States committed itself in 1994 to help Pyongyang with its energy needs by giving it two light-water reactors, but that project since has been halted.