BEIJING: The latest session of six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program was set to wind up Friday with little progress made after the Stalinist regime rejected US calls to immediately close its reactor.
US chief delegate Christopher Hill said the North had dismissed repeated urgings from the United States during the first two days of talks to close its nuclear reactor, which can produce weapons-grade plutonium.
After a series of plenary and bilateral contacts topped off by a six-party dinner on Thursday evening, Hill told reporters that North Korea was “not prepared at this point to tell us when they could shut off the reactor”.
The United States, the two Koreas, China, Russia and Japan began their fifth round of talks on Wednesday aiming to devise ways of implementing a September 19 agreement in which the North committed to disarm in return for energy aid and other benefits.
However the refusal of the North to accede to demands on closing the 5,000-kilowatt experimental graphite-moderated nuclear reactor in Yongbyong has proved a major sticking point at the talks.
With the session only lasting three days before resuming again in December or January, the short time frame also curtailed chances of progress.
“The three-day session is too soon and too short a time to be working out a complete implementation plan,” Hill said.
“But I hope that at our next session, we will be able to make some progress on this and that I can assess how ready the DPRK (North Korea) is to do so.”
Hill warned during the talks that the North Korean nuclear problem had become worse since the September 19 deal because of the reactor issue.
“Every day that goes on, the amount of this plutonium theoretically increases. That is our concern and that means we have a bigger problem than on September 19,” he said.
“I think that the time to stop reprocessing, the time to stop the reactor, is now. Once that is stopped, we look forward to the DPRK making declarations of what it has in the way of nuclear programs.”
The North has been equally firm, insisting that, not only would it keep the Yongbyong reactor running, it intended to make no meaningful moves towards disarmament until the United States supplied it with a light-water nuclear energy reactor.
The Japanese side also expressed frustration at the lack of progress in the talks, with chief delegate Kenichiro Sasae Thursday criticising North Korea's go-slow tactics as “not constructive” and “inappropriate”.
The nuclear crisis has been boiling since October 2002, when the United States accused North Korea of running a secret uranium-enrichment program.
The North responded by throwing out UN International Atomic Energy Agency weapons inspectors and abandoning the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
It has since declared itself a nuclear power, much to the consternation of the United States — whose President George. W. Bush declared the regime as part of an “axis of evil” — and most of the rest of the world.
The six-party talks began in August 2003, with this week's session the fifth round of negotiations.
The six nations were having a round of bilateral meetings on Friday morning, with the talks expected to end in the afternoon. Delegates said it was still unclear whether a joint statement would be issued at the end of the day.