North Korea Nuclear Talks Postponed

By BURT HERMAN
The Associated Press
Monday, September 17, 2007; 4:27 AM

SEOUL, South Korea -- Expected international talks on North Korea's nuclear program to firm up a deadline for the country to disable its facilities so it can no longer produce weapons have been postponed, regional officials said Monday.

The talks had been expected to start around the middle of the week, but Japanese and South Korean officials said they would instead meet at a later date that has not yet been set. No reason for the delay was given.

The six-nation talks _ including China, Japan, Russia, the United States and the two Koreas _ have dragged on for years and been beset by delays but have this year made some progress. The North shut down its sole operating nuclear reactor in July, and had been displaying a willingness to take further steps in exchange for political and economic concessions.

Last week, nuclear experts from the U.S., China and Russia visited the North's nuclear facilities to discuss technical details of disabling them and they reportedly reached an agreement with Pyongyang on how to proceed.

That had led the sides to expect talks involving all six nations to begin this week, in order to finalize the timeline for disablement that the six countries were unable to set at the last session in July. Disabling the facilities would mean they cannot be easily restarted to produce more plutonium that can be used in bombs.

On Friday, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said in Washington that the talks were expected to begin in the middle of this week.

A Japanese Foreign Ministry official said Monday that host China had informed Japan on Monday that the talks would be postponed. China gave no reason for the postponement and gave no new date for the start of talks, the official said on condition of anonymity due to policy.

Another South Korean Foreign Ministry official, also speaking on condition of anonymity due to policy, confirmed the talks would not begin Wednesday as had been previously expected.

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Associated Press writers Hyung-jin Kim and Hiroko Tabuchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.


© 2007 The Associated Press