Beijing, Moscow qualify third round of talks on North Korea nuclear crisis as successful

Defining the scale and means of denuclearising the Korean peninsula and reciprocal steps from the United States and other countries to North Korea's freezing its nuclear programme were the central issues at the six-party talks in Beijing, Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who was presiding over talks, said at a news briefing.

Mr. Yi said the third round of talks that ended on Saturday was a success as the parties agreed that freezing North Korea's nuclear programme must be the first step towards the peninsula's nuclear free status. However, the parties have not settled all their differences, which may cause problems.

Russia, China and Japan agreed in principle to provide energy assistance to North Korea if it closes down its nuclear programme. The USA, for its part, promised to look into North Korea's economic needs if the latter dismantled its nuclear facilities.

Mr. Yi indicated in a statement summing up the third round of North Korea talks that the next round would take place towards the end of September 2004. Before that time a working group of experts from Russia, the USA, North Korea, China, South Korea and Japan will have to determine the scale of what is to be frozen in the North's nuclear programme, inspection arrangements and possible compensations to Pyongyang.

The Russian delegates are also pleased with the outcomes of the third round of talks.

According to Russian Ambassador at Large Alexander Alekseyev, who led the delegation, the discussions demonstrated the participants' resolve to dwell on specific issues, display flexibility, promote friendly atmosphere, which helped achieve positive results.

"Every step in the positive direction must be qualified as the success of talks," said Mr. Alekseyev.

However, the diplomat said there were serious and complicated problems that were yet to be resolved.

"We believe if the atmosphere of tolerance and friendliness is retained at the next round of talks, there is hope of advancing towards a solution to this complicated problem," said the diplomat.

Pyongyang restarted its nuclear programme in autumn 2002 when the US-sponsored construction of a power station was thwarted.

Washington demands that Pyongyang close all of its nuclear programmes, including the peaceful ones, whereas the latter is ready to freeze the military nuclear projects alone against firm security guarantees. (North Korea fears that the Iraqi scenario may be applied to it).

The past two rounds of North Korea talks that were held at the level of deputy foreign ministers of the six countries involved did not bring any noticable results. They took place in August 2003 and February 2004. The countries therefore resolved to set up a working group "to round off rough corners" above all in the positions of Pyongyang and Washington.

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