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Rice holds N Korea nuclear talks

Condoleezza Rice and Pak Ui-chun
The US said Ms Rice's meeting with Mr Pak was "informal"

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has held talks with her North Korean counterpart, the first such meeting for four years.

The talks were also attended by foreign ministers from the other four nations involved in negotiations on the North Korean disarmament process.

The meeting was "good", Ms Rice said, and did not generate any surprises.

Talks focused on agreeing a mechanism for verifying information Pyongyang had revealed on its nuclear work, she said.

Late last month, North Korea handed over a long-awaited declaration detailing its nuclear programme and facilities.

The US wants Pyongyang to agree to an extensive programme of checks to prove the information is correct and complete.

North Korea agreed in February 2006 to end its nuclear programme in return for aid and diplomatic concessions.

But the deal has faced numerous delays, and officials have yet to tackle the trickiest issues - such as how many nuclear weapons Pyongyang has and what should be done with them.

Concessions

The meeting - at the Asean summit in Singapore - was the first time top diplomats from Japan, the US, China, Russia, and the two Koreas had met since the nuclear talks began in 2003.

NORTH KOREA NUCLEAR DEAL
2002: N Korea pulls out of previous deal after US accuses it of having secret uranium programme
October 2006: North Korea carries out its first test of a nuclear weapon
February 2007: N Korea agrees to end nuclear activities in return for aid
July 2007: North Korea closes its Yongbyon nuclear reactor and allows IAEA inspectors in
December 2007: N Korea misses a deadline to hand over a declaration of its nuclear work
June 2008: N Korea hands over nuclear programme details; US cautiously welcomes the move

It was also the first meeting between Ms Rice and North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui-chun - something the US official played down.

"It was a good meeting. There were no surprises," she said. "It was just an informal opportunity."

"The spirit was good because people believed we have made progress. There is also a sense of urgency about moving on, and a sense that we can't afford to have another hiatus of several months."

North Korea, meanwhile, stressed its commitment to the nuclear deal - as long as the aid and concessions materialised.

"Pak Ui-chun emphasised the need for full implementation by the six parties," a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said.

At the moment the two sides are trying to agree on a draft document setting out how the information supplied by Pyongyang will be verified.

The US is seeking extensive inspections of nuclear facilities, soil sampling and access to key scientists, the Associated Press news agency reported.

The goal was to reach a deal on the document by mid-August, US nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill said before the talks.

"[The North Koreans] made some preliminary comments and indicated some problems with it," he said. "But we have to see what their considered comments back from the capital are."

The declaration is thought to detail North Korea's plutonium production efforts.

But it is not believed to address key issues such as an alleged uranium enrichment programme or alleged nuclear cooperation with Syria.

If the information is verified - a process expected to take months - the six nations must then discuss the final phase of the deal, under which North Korea must hand over all its nuclear material and put its nuclear facilities out of action for good.





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