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Chances fade for N Korea atom talks breakthrough

By Staff
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Tokyo, Apr 12: Chances of a breakthrough in stalled six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear arms programme faded today after diplomatic efforts failed to narrow gaps between the two main protagonists, Washington and Pyongyang.

Speculation had persisted that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill might meet his North Korean counterpart, Kim Kye-gwan, while both were in Tokyo for a private forum on security issues, to build momentum to resume the talks.

But Hill today told reporters, his last day in the Japanese capital, that he had no plans to meet Kim.

''We've had plenty of meetings. It's now up to the DPRK (North Korea) to take some action,'' Hill said after meeting his South Korean counterpart, Chun Yung-woo.

''It's not our job to get them back to the talks. It's their job to get themselves back to the talks.'' The six countries in the nuclear talks agreed in September that North Korea would end all nuclear programmes in return for aid and a promise of security and better diplomatic ties.

But the most recent session in November, aimed at compiling a plan to implement that deal, yielded no progress.

China's chief delegate to the six-way talks, Wu Dawei, departing after two days of meetings in the Japanese capital, told reporters the six-way talks would not resume this month.

ROAD BLOCK, NOT COLLAPSE

Wu also said the main obstacle to resuming the talks remained a feud between Pyongyang and Washington over a US crackdown on North Korean assets.

Washington has clamped down on banks that it suspects of assisting Pyongyang in illicit financial activities, including money laundering and counterfeiting US currency.

Pyongyang denies any involvement in such activities and wants Washington to lift what it considers financial sanctions before returning to the negotiating table.

Washington says the measures are purely a law enforcement matter and should not be linked to the six-party process.

Despite the gloom, South Korea's Chun said the six-party process was ''not yet over'' and that the discussions in Tokyo had been productive, although North Korea had not changed its stance.

''South Korea, China and Japan sent the message to the North in one voice urging the North to return to the six-party talks,'' Chun told reporters before heading home.

''I believe the fact that North Korea came here and listened to the common voice of all the other participating countries ...

was a chance to help it make an accurate assessment and in the future make the decision to return to the talks.'' The six countries in the talks are the two Koreas, host-country China, the United States, Japan and Russia.

Analysts had said China was keen to get agreement to resume the talks ahead of President Hu Jintao's meeting with US President George W Bush later this month.

REUTERS 

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