Six-nation negotiations aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear programs adjourned Friday with delegates reporting little progress and agreeing only to hold more detailed negotiations "at the earliest possible date."
The chief U.S. envoy, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill, described the talks as "businesslike" but said negotiators did not have enough time to come up with a plan for disarming North Korea or even to settle on a framework for future discussions.
The delegates left after three days of meetings so officials could attend an Asian economic summit in South Korea next week. Hill said bilateral and working-level meetings could be scheduled soon, with full talks resuming in Beijing again perhaps in December or January.
A prior round of talks in September ended with a vague North Korean promise to close its nuclear programs in exchange for aid, diplomatic recognition and security guarantees. But key issues remain unresolved, including procedures on dismantling the programs, verification and when other nations would begin providing the North with promised assistance.
Hill urged North Korea to immediately shut down a nuclear reactor used to produce weapons-grade plutonium but said he had rejected a North Korean offer to comply in exchange for a compensation package. Hill said the United States did not want to reward the North without a full agreement.
"The existence of these programs is the problem, not whether they're working or not," he said. "We don't want to be pushed on to a sidetrack of dealing with a freeze . . . Anything frozen can be unfrozen, and we're just not interested in that type of reversible step."
In a potentially significant development, Hill said North Korea raised but did not press a demand that it be provided with a light-water nuclear reactor before it disarms, a key stumbling block in the last round of talks.
Hill said he and envoys from the four other nations -- China, Japan, Russia and South Korea -- were united in insisting that the request be discussed only after the North had dismantled its nuclear facilities and opened itself up to inspections.
"It was mentioned a couple of times, but it was not an issue we had to devote much time to, so maybe that's encouraging," Hill said. He cautioned that it was too early to conclude the dispute had been settled.
North Korea's chief envoy, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan, did not mention the light-water reactor in remarks to reporters after the talks adjourned.
But Kim warned that "financial sanctions imposed by the U.S." on North Korea would "hinder the implementation of the commitments we have made." Hill said Kim was referring to a U.S. determination in September that a bank in the Chinese territory of Macau had been laundering money for North Korea. As a result, the Banco Delta Asia SARL announced it was closing the accounts of all North Korean clients, and the Macau government was assuming temporary control of the bank.
A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the North Korean negotiators appeared to be confused by the issue and seemed to believe that the U.S. government had frozen the North Korean accounts. He said the North Koreans did not use the complaint to derail the talks.