Six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear program have ended in Beijing without a breakthrough, but delegates are planning a fourth round of talks.
The third round ended on Saturday in Beijing with an agreement to hold further talks by the end of September, and a pledge to take the first steps to resolve the 20-month old nuclear deadlock as soon as possible, according to a Chinese official.
Host China said the six nations found some common ground, with all parties agreeing that a freeze of the North’s nuclear program should be a first step.
But China’s vice foreign minister Wang Yi cautioned there was still a “serious lack of mutual trust” among the governments involved, with the United States and North Korea still poles apart.
A key issue separating the two is Washington’s claim that the North is operating a secret uranium-based nuclear program in addition to its declared program based on plutonium.
The North denies having a uranium program, but Washington says it must be included in any settlement.
Still there were some positive developments.
The United States made its first offer to North Korea since George W. Bush was elected. He has labeled the reclusive North part of an “axis of evil” alongside Iran and pre-war Iraq.
But the four-day meeting was marred by a report that Pyongyang would test a nuclear weapon if Washington did not accept its proposal for a nuclear freeze.
The U.S. State Department has since disputed the claim, which emerged on Thursday, when North Korean Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan met U.S. Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly on the sidelines of the meetings.
One senior U.S. administration official cited Kim as saying, “look if you don’t buy our freeze proposal and buy it soon, we are going to test a nuclear weapon.”
North Korea has offered to freeze its nuclear program in exchange for compensation, including large amounts of energy aid.
On Friday, State Department Deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said Kim’s reported remarks “were not phrased as a threat, number one. It was phrased as a statement that some in Pyongyang wanted to test a nuclear weapon.”
“This is not something new. We’ve heard these sorts of comments before. It was not phrased or given as an ultimatum but rather to the contrary.”
U.S. offer On Wednesday, the U.S. proposed that North Korea end its nuclear program and allow international monitors to return in exchange for energy aid and a provisional U.S. security guarantee.
Under the plan, North Korea would provide a full declaration of its nuclear activities and cease all of them; secure any fissile material that could be used to produce a nuclear bomb; disable any dangerous materials; and allow inspectors to return.
In exchange, the other countries in the talks — China, South Korea, Japan and Russia — would provide Pyongyang with badly needed heavy fuel oil, and the United States would offer a “provisional” guarantee not to attack North Korea.
North Korea has yet to respond to the U.S. offer.
Still, Ereli said the Beijing talks have been “constructive.”
“I think we came away from this discussion, from this long and involved and engaged discussion, with the firm view that the North Koreans were going to give our proposal very serious consideration.”
He said that during the two and one-half hour meeting between Kelly and Kim, various ideas designed to advance denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula were discussed.