Negotiators prepare to hold NKorea nuclear talks
By KWANGTAE KIM,Associated Press Writer AP - 2 hours 51 minutes ago
BEIJING - Envoys from the United States and five other nations met Monday for talks on mothballing North Korea's nuclear program, amid dour predictions for progress in the negotiations.
The six, who also include South Korea, North Korea, China, Japan and Russia, held a series of bilateral meetings in Beijing before sitting down for formal talks in the mid-afternoon.
In opening comments, Chinese envoy Wu Dawei sounded an optimistic note, but gave few details.
"I'm convinced that with concerted efforts from all parties we will continue to make progress," Wu said before reporters were ushered from the meeting hall.
South Korean and Japanese negotiators have said they don't expect to see progress.
North Korea _ which tested a nuclear bomb in 2006 _ agreed last year to disable its main reactor in exchange for aid. However, Pyongyang recently said it would not allow inspectors to take samples from the nuclear complex to verify its past activities, casting doubt on the chances of an agreement on methods to validate the North's accounting of its nuclear programs.
South Korean envoy Kim Sook raised the sampling issue with his counterpart from the North, said Cho Yun-soo, a spokesman for the South Korean delegation. He didn't say if the North responded.
Cho said the sides held comprehensive discussions on methods for verification, complete disablement of the North's nuclear programs and economic aid. He said North Korean envoy Kim Kye Gwan explained Pyongyang's position in detail, but declined to elaborate.
Cho said Kim Sook also explained Seoul's policy toward the North and urged that progress on the talks and improvements in inter-Korean relations go hand in hand.
Tensions on the Korean peninsula have been high since a new pro-U.S., conservative government took office in Seoul in February. Earlier this month, North Korea restricted traffic across their shared border in protest against Seoul's hard-line policy toward Pyongyang.
Kim Sook was quoted by South Korean media on Sunday as saying he was "not optimistic at all" about progress resulting from the latest round of talks.
Officials were also discussing U.S. nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill's talks last week with his North Korean counterpart in Singapore, Japan's Akitaka Saiki told reporters.
"After hearing about what was discussed between the U.S. and North Korea, it appears a big gap still remains," Saiki said. "Regarding how to narrow the gap, it's up to each party's efforts from tomorrow. I think negotiations are going to be tough."
Hill said there was no reason for North Korea to reject sampling.
"It's not unusual, it's not anything new, and it's not anything the North Koreans should be objecting to," he said.
Hill also said he made it clear that it was important for the North Koreans to meet with the Japanese, after the North vowed Saturday to ignore Japan at the talks. It cited Tokyo's refusal to send aid to the impoverished country as part of the disarmament agreement.
North Korea has issued similar warnings in the past, but Tokyo has continued to attend the negotiations that began in 2003.
On Monday, the North's main Rodong Sinmun newspaper attacked reported moves by Tokyo to send its Self Defense Forces to help fight piracy off Somalia.
"Japan had better face up to the reality with a cool head and drop its foolish ambition," the paper said in a commentary claiming the Japanese moves are part of a plot to ultimately reinvade the region. Japan ruled Korea in 1910-1945 before the peninsula was divided.
Associated Press writer Gillian Wong contributed to this report.
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