Key participants in long-stalled negotiations to eliminate North Korea's nuclear weapons program set out modest goals Sunday for a new round of talks opening Tuesday, saying they hoped for enough progress to get the negotiations moving again after a 13-month deadlock.
The conservative attitude, from leaders of the U.S., North Korean and South Korean delegations, reflected sober assessments by diplomats from all sides that the six-nation negotiations still face a long, difficult task despite hopes raised by North Korea's decision this month to return to the table after its long boycott.
Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs and head of the U.S. negotiating team, told reporters that he did not expect the new round of talks to resolve the long-simmering confrontation over North Korea's weapons program. The hope, he added, was for enough progress to justify more talks.
"We would like to make some measurable progress, progress we can build on for a subsequent round of negotiations," he said on arrival in Beijing.
The South Korean delegation leader, Deputy Foreign Minister Song Min Soon, said he and his North Korean counterpart, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, reached a similar conclusion Sunday at a meeting in Beijing to lay groundwork for the talks, which also include Japan, Russia and China. The two spoke of making "substantial progress," Song said, but not of reaching a solution.
"We shared the view that participants in the talks should produce substantial progress and come up with a framework for the realization of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula," Song told South Korea's Yonhap news agency.
North Korea's state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper underlined that the main North Korean goal remained securing a commitment from the United States that it had no intention of promoting an end to the Stalinist government headed by Kim Jong Il. This has been a major focus of North Korean negotiators, who point to hostile comments from U.S. officials as indications that they are out to overthrow the system.
"If the United States drops its ambition for a regime change and opts for peaceful coexistence . . . the talks can make successful progress and settle the issue of the denuclearization of the peninsula," the paper said Sunday, according to the North's official Korean Central News Agency.
A statement Friday from the North Korean Foreign Ministry said drawing up a formal peace treaty to end the 1950-53 Korean War would be an appropriate way to begin normalizing U.S.-North Korean relations and showing that the United States was willing to deal with Kim's government.
U.S. diplomats have insisted, however, that the first issue to attend to is obtaining a commitment from North Korea for complete, permanent and verifiable dismantling of its nuclear weapons program.