The United States joined North Korea on Saturday in raising objections to a Chinese proposal designed to break a stalemate in six-nation talks on dismantling North Korea's nuclear weapons program.
Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs and the chief U.S. negotiator, said he and other diplomats were consulting with their governments to come as close as possible to new suggestions by China that would accord North Korea the right in principle to the peaceful use of nuclear energy in the future.
"Several delegations, including ours, had some difficulties with it," Hill said. "But we're trying to work with it, to do something with it."
The North Korean negotiating team in particular was awaiting further instructions from Pyongyang before giving a formal response to the Chinese proposal, according to the official New China News Agency. North Korean diplomats in Beijing already have publicly dismissed the Chinese ideas, however, saying they are too similar to U.S. demands.
Chinese diplomats, who as sponsors direct the long-running discussions, called another negotiating session for Sunday morning to see whether the U.S. and North Korean positions had moved any closer to agreement after overnight consultations. If not, Hill and other diplomats suggested, the talks will turn to how to end this round of the six-party process while minimizing the impression of failure.
Along with China, North Korea and the United States, the negotiations include Russia, Japan and South Korea. But most disagreements since the exchanges began in August 2003 have pitted the United States against North Korea, with China seeking to play the role of referee.
The main standoff during this round's five days of talks has centered on North Korea's demand for a light-water nuclear reactor to produce electricity as part of any deal to give up its nuclear weapons program. The United States has insisted that North Korea cannot be trusted with such a facility because it has transformed a nuclear research reactor into a source of weapons-grade plutonium. Also, Hill has pointed out repeatedly, the North expelled U.N. nuclear weapons inspectors in late 2002 and, shortly after that, renounced the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Seeking compromise, China suggested Friday that North Korea be accorded the right in principle to peaceful use of nuclear energy in the future, after its nuclear weapons are dismantled and it has rejoined the international inspection regime. Such a promise is insufficient, North Korea said in a statement Friday evening. For its part, Hill said, the United States has insisted on nailing down a clear sequence of what North Korea would have to accomplish before that right could be put into practice.