Wednesday, January 9, 2008

China says North Korea delay "natural"

January 3, 2008

BEIJING (Reuters) - China, host of six-party talks aimed at reining in North Korea's nuclear program, on Thursday described North Korea's failure to meet a deadline to account for its nuclear activities as a natural delay.

North Korea failed to meet a year-end deadline to make a full declaration of its nuclear programs under a disarmament-for-aid deal involving the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and China.

"The pace is faster in some areas and slower in some areas. This is natural," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told a news conference, urging all sides to fulfill their respective pledges.

"We believe the comprehensive implementation of actions will open broader prospects for the six-party talks."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States was eager to see North Korea's declaration, but added that Pyongyang should "not sacrifice completeness and accuracy for speed."

The reclusive and impoverished North Korea has made progress towards disabling its Yongbyon nuclear complex. The disabling was not completed by December 31, but that was mostly due to technical reasons.

If North Korea meets its obligations, it will receive a huge injection of aid, mostly in the form of heavy fuel oil needed to run its aging factories.

The United States has also pledged to take it off its terrorism blacklist, which could allow North Korea to tap into international finance. In its next phase, the deal will require North Korea to fully dismantle its nuclear complexes.

Chief U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill will visit Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing and Moscow from January 7 to 12 for consultations, McCormack said. Hill has no plan to visit Pyongyang, he said.

(Reporting by Lindsay Beck, and Paul Eckert in Washington; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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