Chinese try to break nuke talks standoff

The United States joined North Korea Saturday in raising objections to a Chinese compromise proposal designed to break a stalemate in six-nation talks on dismantling North Korea's nuclear weapons program. Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs and the chief U.S. negotiator, said he and other diplomats were consulting with their governments to come as close as possible to China's new suggestions, which seek to bridge a U.S.-North Korean standoff over North Korea's peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The North Korean negotiating team in particular was awaiting further instructions from its government in Pyongyang before giving a formal response to the Chinese proposal, according to the official New China News Agency. North Korean diplomats in Beijing already have publicly dismissed the Chinese ideas, however, saying they are too similar to U.S. demands.

The Chinese, sponsors who direct the long-running discussions, called another negotiating session for today to see whether the U.S. and North Korean positions had moved any closer after overnight consultations. If not, Hill and other diplomats suggested the talk will turn to how to end this round of the six-party process while minimizing the impression of failure.

Along with China, North Korea and the United States, the negotiations include Russia, Japan and South Korea. But most disagreements since the exchanges began in August 2003 have pitted the United States against North Korea, with China seeking to play the role of referee, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

The main standoff during this round's five days of talks has centered on North Korea's demand for a light-water nuclear reactor to produce electricity as part of any deal to give up its nuclear weapons program. The United States has insisted that North Korea cannot be trusted with such a facility because it already has transformed a nuclear research reactor into a source of weapons-grade plutonium.

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