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Last Updated: Thursday, 28 August, 2003, 15:04 GMT 16:04 UK
Progress reported at N Korea talks
A Chinese officer stands guard as the US delegation leaves the talks
The discussions are closed to the press
The first indications of progress have emerged from six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

Although there is no sign of a diplomatic breakthrough over the 10-month old crisis, Russian and Chinese officials said the participants had agreed to reconvene for more talks.

The BBC's correspondent at the meeting has said that given the parties are so divided over the issue, just agreeing to another summit is to be considered a measure of the talks' success.

This week's talks in Beijing are the first formal discussions on North Korea's nuclear ambitions since April, and the first to include so many nations since the crisis began.

'Frank atmosphere'

A statement carried by the Chinese official news agency on Thursday indicated that some common ground had been found.

"The parties reiterated that denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula is the common goal of all sides, and the nuclear issue should be resolved peacefully through diplomatic means," Xinhua said.

But the real sticking point is how this is achieved.

North Korea says it will not give up its nuclear programme without a guarantee that the US will not attack, but Washington is unwilling to agree to a non-aggression treaty while North Korea clings to its nuclear ambitions.

At Thursday's session, delegates from North and South Korea, the US, China, Japan and Russia gathered around their specially commissioned hexagonal table for nearly four hours of formal talks, in what Xinhua described as a "frank atmosphere".

They spent much of the time responding to each other's opening statements, according to South Korean foreign ministry official Jeong Woo-jin.

The Russian negotiator, Alexander Losyukov, said it was likely that a communique - bringing together the discussions of the last two days - would be adopted on Friday, the last day of talks.

He said it had been agreed that further talks should take place in the next two months, although South Korean Foreign Ministry official Wie Sung-rak would only say that there was a consensus the six-party discussions should continue.

One-to-one meetings

Analysts say that the real nitty gritty of the conflict is likely to be addressed in bilateral and trilateral discussions taking place on the sidelines of the main talks.

The main players at the six-nation talks

Japan in its bilateral discussion with North Korea on Thursday raised the issue of its citizens kidnapped by Pyongyang in the 1970s and 1980s.

Five surviving abductees were allowed to return to Japan last year, but Tokyo wants their children to be allowed to settle in Japan as well.

Delegates from the two Koreas also met informally, hailed by South Korean spokesman Shin Bong-kil as their "friendliest bilateral contacts ever".

On Wednesday, there were brief meetings between US Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly and North Korean Deputy Foreign Minister Kim Yong-il, although a US embassy spokesman in Beijing played down their importance, saying there would be no formal bilateral talks between the two sides.

Analysts say Washington is unwilling to get dragged into one-to-one discussions with North Korea, and instead wants the entire region to be instrumental in pressuring the Stalinist regime.

The stakes for resolving the crisis could hardly be higher. At issue is the peace of north-east Asia and the survival of the isolated totalitarian regime in North Korea, our correspondent says.

The BBC's Charles Scanlon in Beijing
"At least it's a sign that civil conversation is now possible"

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