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China says N. Korean nuclear talks are set

US, others assert inspections key

BEIJING -- China yesterday called for progress in international efforts to get North Korea to scrap nuclear weapons development in exchange for aid as it announced that the slow-moving talks will resume next week in Beijing.

China has organized four rounds of negotiations since 2003 on the North Korea nuclear issue, leading to an agreement in September for the North to give up its atomic ambitions in exchange for energy aid and a security guarantee.

Much still needs to be done in the six-nation talks, which also include the United States, South Korea, Japan, and Russia. Negotiators will seek to work out the steps for North Korea to disarm and how they will be verified. Washington and others want a timetable for international inspections.

The negotiations resume Wednesday.

Two long years of talks have proceeded fitfully, amid distrust.

North Korea still refuses to disarm completely without getting concessions along the way, while Washington has said it wants to see the weapons programs dismantled before granting rewards.

Specifically, North Korea says it must be given a light-water nuclear reactor for civilian use before it will disarm -- a demand it repeated yesterday and which Washington has rejected in the past.

China appealed yesterday for all six countries to ''take an active and constructive attitude" in the upcoming talks.

''If the parties concerned could . . . make progress regarding the contents listed in the joint statement at the last round, that will be considered positive progress," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said.

There might be a break during the talks for negotiators to attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit Nov. 12-19 in Busan, South Korea, he said.

Russia's chief delegate to the talks, Alexander Alexeyev, cautioned that the negotiators face hard work. ''There is no doubt that the negotiations will not be easy," Russia's Interfax news agency quoted Alexeyev as saying.

According to the statement issued after the last talks in September, North Korea ''committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning at an early date" to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

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