North Korea nuclear talks to move into 4th day

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BEIJING, Sep 29 (Reuters) Talks on ending North Korea's nuclear ambitions shifted focus today to US energy aid for the impoverished state as delegates considered a text of a proposed joint statement hopefully to be released tomorrow.

US President George W Bush yeserday authorised 25 million dollars in aid for the North, which would provide up to 50,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil, as a reward for Pyongyang's commitment to disable its nuclear facilities by the end of the year.

US envoy Christopher Hill said he had seen the draft of the joint statement.

''It's a pretty complete draft and we made some comments, but I don't know what the others think about it,'' he told reporters. ''So I don't know if we will have a joint statement or not.'' North Korea, which tested a nuclear device last year, shut down and sealed its Yongbyon nuclear plant and allowed UN monitors back to the site in July.

Those were its first steps in carrying out a breakthrough agreement reached in February at the six-party talks, which group the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and China.

But it must now disable its atomic facilities and make a declaration of all of its nuclear programmes, in return for a huge injection of fuel aid and an end to diplomatic isolation.

China and South Korea have delivered initial fuel shipments and Russia is expected to do so too, but Japan has indicated it will not participate unless North Korea addresses the issue of Japanese citizens the North abducted in the 1970s and 1980s.

Russian negotiator Alexander Losyukov expected a draft joint statement to be released tomorrow.

''All six nations will continue to discuss the draft joint statement in the evening and tomorrow,'' Losyukov was quoted by Xinhua news agency as saying.

It quoted South Korean delegate Chun Yung-woo as saying the six sides had reached ''some agreement''.

He said he could not disclose the details but ''the most important part of it will be the timing of declaration and disablement of nuclear facilities''.

Hill had initially said this round of talks would aim to set targets for disablement to the end of the year. He later scaled back expectations, saying negotiators hoped to agree to a ''road map''.

Hill stressed that disablement of the nuclear facilities, a step towards complete dismantling, had to mean that it would be a long and costly process for Pyongyang to restart its reactors.

In 2002, North Korea was able to restart the Yongbyon reactor in two months, after a previous disarmament agreement fell apart.

South Korea said the issue of North Korea's nuclear ambitions should not be allowed to drag on.

''This problem, if not resolved soon, will seriously undermine the NPT regime,'' said South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon, referring to the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.

''It also has significant implications for peace and security in Northeast Asia and beyond,'' he told the UN General Assembly.

Reuters PD GC2045

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