U.S. Envoy says resolution of complex technical issues will take time, effort
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The first session of a fifth round of Six-Party Talks aimed at ending nuclear programs on the Korean Peninsula moved forward with "very few acrimonious words" and with all sides demonstrating commitment to the process, according to Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill.
Hill, head of the U.S. delegation to the talks, briefed reporters in Beijing after the close of the session on November 11. He characterized the three-day meeting as "useful" and "very businesslike."
The other parties to the talks are China, Japan, Russia, North Korea and South Korea.
"As I said, as all of us said at the beginning of this session, we were not expecting to make any major breakthroughs," Hill said. The goal of the talks, he stressed, was to follow up on the agreement signed at the conclusion of the fourth round of talks September 19 and to assess what to do next. (See related article.)
Hill said the session was too short to develop detailed implementation plans for the principles set forth in the September 19 agreement, although the participants had considered various ideas. All six participants are committed to returning for a second session to develop a work plan, he said.
"It's a very strong diplomatic process," Hill said. "It continues to enjoy very active support of all its participants. Everyone was there with ideas. Again, the atmosphere was very good and the commitment to progress is considerable."
Asked when the round might resume for a second session, Hill told reporters that it will be difficult to set aside a sufficient block of time before the end of 2005 because the regional calendar is already very full, given the upcoming annual meetings of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, the East Asia Summit scheduled for mid-December in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and a series of holidays.
"[W]e looked at dates earlier in December but our concern is that we don't want to try to squeeze this into another 72-hour period," he said.
Implementing the principles of the September 19 agreement will be a complicated matter that will require lengthy study and discussion, he said.
"We really do need more time because when you get into the implementation … just looking at the types of things that [North Korea] is going to have to do with respect to its nuclear systems, we're going to have to figure out how to make sure there's a complete declaration of their programs. We're going to have to come up with a plan of how to dismantle these programs. We're going to have to come up with a plan on how to verify the dismantlement. This is not your 'three day and out' type job."
Hill said the six participants did consider the possibility of establishing working groups to begin working out the details of the many technical issues that will have to be resolved. But no agreement was reached on a starting date or on how such groups should be organized.
Asked what he considered the main achievement of the session, Hill responded, "Well, to some extent what we achieved is to realize how much work we have ahead of us and how complex this issue is going to be in terms of identifying the work plan for denuclearization."
Hill said the other delegations had good suggestions for how to proceed, and he praised the Chinese government's work as host.
He also said there had been a series of separate bilateral technical discussions in the lead-up to the session. Hill said he expected this would continue because the members of the delegations cannot spend several weeks in plenary meetings as they did in the fourth round of talks.
"I was encouraged to hear the [North Koreans] acknowledge that … the devil is in the details," Hill said. "I was pleased to see their acknowledging the overall elements that need to be worked into a plan."