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Six-party talks on North Korea nuclear crisis open in Beijing

Experts from six countries, Russia, the United States, North and South Koreas, China and Japan, will open the second meeting of their working group in Beijing on Monday. The meeting will be part of the negotiating process on the North Korean nuclear programme. The meeting will take place prior to the six-party talks on the problem, due on June 23-26.

"I would not say that the countries have divided further on the matter. They have come to understand each other's positions better, and they are therefore making attempts to find solutions," Valery Sukhinin, Deputy Director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's First Asia Department, told RIA Novosti. Mr Sukhinin is a member of the international working group. He emphasised that the Russian delegation would work to achieve certain results at the Beijing meeting.

Russian Ambassador at Large Alexander Alekseyev who is heading the Russian delegation to the six-party talks is arriving in China on Tuesday, according to Mr Sukhinin.

The Chinese delegation is being led by Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Ke-Kwan. US Assistant Secretary James Kelly is leading the American delegation. The South Korean delegates are being led by Deputy Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Li Soo-kyuck. Japan's delegation is being led by Mitoju Yabunaka, General Director of the Asian and Oceanic Affairs Bureau.

The working group members have held bilateral and multilateral meetings prior to the Beijing meeting. The USA, Japan and South Korea held a separate three-party meeting. The three countries agreed on their positions before the third round of talks. Besides, meetings were held between Russian and American experts and between American and Chinese experts.

The Japanese delegation leader said at the airport that six-party talks had come up against too many difficulties and it was difficult to predict the result before they started.

China, for its part, said expectations for the third round of talks should be moderate as the issues on the agenda were very complicated. However, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhang Qiyua said Beijing would do the utmost to settle the nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula by peaceful means and promote progress at six-party talks.

In autumn 2002, North Korea said it had restarted its nuclear programme as the US-sponsored project for the construction of a new nuclear power plant had been actually thwarted.

The war in Iraq enhanced apprehensions of North Korea whom the United States attributed to the "axis of evil" along with the Saddam Husein regime.

Today, the USA demands that North Korea close down all nuclear programmes whatsoever, whereas Pyongyang is prepared to freeze military nuclear research programmes alone in exchange for security guarantees.

The first two rounds of regional talks at the level of the deputy foreign ministers of the six countries involved took place in August 2003 and February 2004. However, they did not bring any progress whatever. The countries involved had therefore to set up a working group for rounding off rough corners, above all between the USA and North Korea.

The group held its maiden meeting in May 2004. It was designed to prepare the third round of North Korean talks.