Negotiators set for 'tough' NKorea nuclear talks
By KWANGTAE KIM,Associated Press Writer AP - Monday, December 8
BEIJING - Japan's top nuclear envoy joined other negotiators Sunday in downplaying expectations for a new round of talks on North Korea's disarmament, saying it would be tough to work out a detailed plan for verifying the North's past nuclear activities.
North Korea _ which conducted a nuclear test in 2006 _ agreed last year to disable its reactor in exchange for aid. But the North recently denied having agreed to allow inspectors to take samples from its nuclear complex to verify its past activities.
The six-nation talks over the next three days are expected to focus on how to verify the North's accounting of its program, but negotiators have said they expect the process to be difficult.
U.S., South Korean and Japanese nuclear negotiators met in Beijing for discussions ahead of the talks, which start Monday.
The officials discussed U.S. nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill's meetings on Thursday and Friday 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."
South Korea's top nuclear negotiator Kim Sook also expressed pessimism about the talks.
"I am not optimistic at all," Kim said, according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency Sunday. Referring to Hill's meeting with the North Korean envoy in Singapore, Kim said "there was no explicit outcome or new compromise."
Hill said there was no reason for North Korea to reject sampling.
"Sampling is one of the number of verification methods, there are certainly other issues," Hill said. "It's not unusual, it's not anything new, and it's not anything the North Koreans should be objecting to."
U.S. officials said in October that North Korea had agreed to allow experts to take samples and conduct forensic tests at all of its declared nuclear facilities and undeclared sites.
Hill also said he made it clear that it is 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.
"I don't think it's for North Korea to be including or excluding anyone in the six-party talks. They need to deal with us all," Hill said.
Under the agreement, North Korea pledged to disable its nuclear reactor in exchange for 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil or equivalent aid, half of which has been delivered. Japan has refused to join the four other countries _ China, Russia, South Korea and the United States _ in providing the aid until North Korea addresses the kidnapping of more than a dozen Japanese in the 1970s and '80s.
Associated Press writer Gillian Wong contributed to this report.
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