BEIJING – The six countries involved in North Korean disarmament talks extended their negotiations beyond Saturday while considering a Chinese proposal for the Pyongyang (search) regime be allowed to keep a peaceful nuclear program in return for giving up its atomic weapons ambitions.
Some of the delegations had yet to get responses from their home governments about the proposal that China laid out Friday, a South Korean official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak on the record.
North Korea has demanded to be given a nuclear reactor for generating electricity before disarming. But Washington argues the North cannot be trusted with any nuclear program given its history of pursuing nuclear bombs.
Japan's envoy cast doubt on whether negotiators would reach consensus through another day of talks Sunday.
"As of now, we have not come to an agreement," Kenichiro Sasae (search), director of the Asia and Oceania Bureau at Japan's Foreign Ministry, said after talks wrapped up for the day. "Tomorrow, another meeting is scheduled to take place. I think the prospects are not at all bright."
The chief envoys from the six nations — China, the United States, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas — attended a dinner Saturday evening hosted by Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo, the official Xinhua News Agency (search) reported.
Dai urged the envoys to end the "cold war state" on the Korean peninsula and to accept China's plan, which he called "balanced" and a "win-win" proposal, Xinhua reported.
Earlier in the day, Washington said it was studying the Chinese proposal but gave no indication as to whether it would go along with the idea.
"The Chinese have given us a text to react to, some ideas, so we're looking at those and having some internal discussions and talking with people in Washington," the chief U.S. envoy, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, said as he left his hotel.
"We'll see where we go ... we've had a fairly fast pace for the last 24 hours and I think that will continue for the next 24 hours. So we'll have to see," he said.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing by telephone about the nuclear talks, China's official Xinhua News Agency said Saturday. It did not say when they spoke.
Rice earlier this week implied the United States was losing patience with North Korea's intransigence, saying in a newspaper interview that Pyongyang had just a few days to show its willingness to disarm.
In the meantime, she said Washington was working to stop the spread of nuclear technology regardless of what happens at the Beijing talks, through intelligence sharing and freezing of assets of those involved.
North Korean spokesman Hyun Hak Bong did not react directly to China's proposal.
But Japan's envoy said none of the participants are thrilled with the proposed compromise.
"All the participants concerned have some points that they are unsatisfied with," said Kenichiro Sasae, director of the Asia and Oceania Bureau at Japan's Foreign Ministry. "I don't think that we can see the prospects for reaching an agreement yet," Sasae told reporters on Saturday.
However, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Alexeyev said Friday the proposal contains "compromise wording which could satisfy both sides," referring to the United States and North Korea.
The North has been offered economic aid, security guarantees from Washington and free electricity from South Korea in exchange for dismantling its weapons program.
But it has refused to give it up without any concessions from the United States, a stance that put it at odds with Washington.
"We will never give up our nuclear" program before the U.S. nuclear threat is removed from the Korean Peninsula, told reporters on Friday evening, referring to Pyongyang's claims that it needs nuclear arms to defend itself.
"We will just do it our way. For us, we cannot stop our way of peaceful nuclear activities for one minute," Hyun said, reading from a written statement.
Hyun said the North would be willing to see the nuclear reactor co-managed and that it would be open to international inspections.