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Talks on North Korean Nukes Expose Major Disagreements

By Joseph Kahn

The New York Times -- BEIJING

The United States, North Korea and four other nations on Thursday discussed freezing North Korea’s nuclear program in exchange for energy aid. But the continuing talks here also exposed stark disagreements that left diplomats wondering whether they could emerge with much more than a commitment to keep negotiating.

Both the United States and North Korea appeared to make modest concessions at the talks, several participants said, and the tone was described as constructive and lacking the invective that often punctuates discussions with North Korea. The two had private meetings during each of the first two days as well as participating in group discussions.

But it was clear that the United States and North Korea made scant progress in resolving their differences over the scope of North Korea’s nuclear program, the steps it would have to take to abolish it and the timing of aid packages for North Korea.

To underscore their differences, North Korea hurriedly convened international reporters on Thursday night and denounced the “hardline stance” of the United States for preventing progress.

“The second round of six-nation talks isn’t making progress because of the United States’ hardline position,” Choe Jin Su, the North Korean ambassador in Beijing, was quoted as saying in an official statement read aloud to reporters outside the North Korean Embassy.

“We will abandon our nuclear weapons program when the United States drops its hostile policy toward North Korea,” Choe said. “The United States should take all the responsibility for the meeting not making progress.”

It was not clear whether North Korea’s statement was a warning that it planned to withdraw from the talks or merely public posturing before the third and possibly final day of negotiations on Friday.

Assessments of how well the talks were going depended on which party was doing the assessing. In addition to the United States and North Korea, Japan, South Korea, China and Russia are taking part in the discussions.