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US Hints N. Korea Talks near End

US envoy Christopher Hill is surrounded by reporters at St. Regis Hotel in Beijing on the 8th day of the 4th Six-Party Talks on North Korea's nuclear issue on August 2, 2005.

A US envoy has suggested the latest round of talks on North Korea's nuclear programme, now in its ninth day, could be nearing some kind of conclusion.

Christopher Hill was speaking after China put forward yet another draft of a proposed joint statement. Mr Hill called the latest proposal "a very important text... designed to narrow the differences."

The North wants security guarantees and aid before it will scrap its programme, conditions the US has baulked at.

Both Mr Hill and North Korean envoy Kim Kye-gwan had earlier expressed doubts that an agreement would be achieved.

Six nations - the two Koreas, the US, China, Russia and Japan - are taking part in the talks, already at record length, in the Chinese capital.

'Bright future'

Before leaving for talks on Wednesday, Mr Hill said the fourth draft - sent overnight to all the teams - appeared to be aiming to "get to the point where we can agree something."

"I would say it is getting to an end-game text," Mr Hill said.

"I don't know at this point whether we will get it to an agreed text, but I think it's getting to an end-game text."

"We'll see, it's a pretty important day," he said, suggesting that the talks were approaching the final stages of discussions.

Mr Hill admitted that differences still remained, but urged Pyongyang to seize the opportunity.

"I think we were all struck by the importance of this... to all of us of getting this done," he said.

"Because, in a very real sense, the DPRK (North Korea) does indeed stand on a crossroads and they can look forward to a brighter future, a more secure future, a more prosperous future but they cannot do it with nuclear weapons," he said.

Japanese chief negotiator Kenichiro Sasae agreed that the negotiations "had come to a crucial stage."

The new draft contained statements on energy aid for North Korea, normalisation of relations with the US and Japan, and the provision of peaceful nuclear energy for the North, said South Korea's chief delegate Song Min-soon.

None of the delegates were reported to mention North Korea's suspected second nuclear programme - an enriched uranium project that Pyongyang denies.

That issue has derailed talks in the past.


The North Korean side has been more pessimistic than the US in the last 24 hours.

Mr Kim, in his first public comment since the talks began, described the situation on Tuesday as "bad," but said his team would "do our best to reach an agreement."

North Korea wants security guarantees and aid before it will scrap its nuclear programme. But the US has always insisted that North Korea abandon its nuclear ambitions before any concessions are made.

North Korea also wants sanctions against it lifted, and what it sees as a US nuclear threat removed.

It says it will return to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and re-admit international weapons inspectors if the crisis is resolved.

The crisis first erupted in 2002 when the United States accused North Korea of pursuing nuclear arms.

The stand-off deepened when Pyongyang withdrew from the NPT and announced earlier this year that it had nuclear weapons.






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