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Saturday, September 17, 2005

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | China seeks N Korea breakthrough

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | China seeks N Korea breakthrough China seeks N Korea breakthrough
Diplomats are discussing a Chinese attempt to break the deadlock in talks on North Korea's nuclear programme.

As six-nation talks enter a fifth day in Beijing, China has asked for a decision by 1500 (0700 GMT), the Russian news agency Interfax reports.

The draft document is understood to state that North Korea has a right to use nuclear energy technology.

The US had initially ruled out such a concession, saying North Korea could not be trusted.

"China has given us a text to react to so we're looking at it," said chief US envoy to the talks, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill.

N Korea is being pressed to give up nuclear weapons and close Yongbyon reactor
In return it will receive security guarantees, economic aid and free electricity
N Korea first said it wanted right to maintain civilian nuclear programme
Now says it wants to be given a light water reactor
N Korea was promised two reactors under 1994 deal, but deal broke down in 2002

"We'll see where we go... It's been a fairly fast pace in the last 24 hours."

The Chinese proposal contains "compromise wording which could satisfy both [the US and North Korea]," said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Alexeyev, quoted by the Associated Press.

As well as China and the US, the talks also involve South Korea, Japan and Russia.

The attempt at a breakthrough came after Washington and Pyongyang appeared to have reached an impasse over the North's new demand that it be given a light water nuclear reactor.

'Major problem'

A spokesman for the North said on Thursday that it would make up for the graphite moderated reactors it was being pressed to give up under the proposed deal.

Light water reactors are much more difficult to use as a source of plutonium with which to build nuclear weapons. North Korea claims to be using one of its existing graphite reactors to this end.

Oct 2002: US says North Korea is enriching uranium in violation of agreements
Dec 2002: North Korea removes UN seals from Yongbyon nuclear reactor, expels inspectors
Feb 2003: IAEA refers North Korea to UN Security Council
Aug 2003: First round of six-nation talks begins in Beijing
Feb 2005: Pyongyang says it has built nuclear weapons for self-defence

Until now the communist regime has been offered security guarantees, aid and free power if it ends its nuclear programme.

Mr Hill has called the North Korean request a "major problem" for the talks.

Mr Hill said building a light water reactor would cost $2-3bn (£1.1-£1.6bn) and would take about 10 years. He insisted the North accept a South Korean offer to use its electricity through power cables across the border.

Mr Hill also said agreement needed to be reached on the removal of North Korea's "terrible weapons" before other demands could be looked at.

Pyongyang, for its part, wants aid and diplomatic incentives and be granted the right to keep a civilian nuclear programme first.
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