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Progress push at nuke crisis talks

Negotiators from the six countries shake hands before the start of talks.
Negotiators from the six countries shake hands before the start of talks.

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Six-nation talks on the North Korean nuclear crisis begin in Beijing.
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North Korean television's own version of reality TV, starring none other than leader Kim Jong Il.
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• Analysis: What are the options?
• Six-nation talks: Where they stand
• Interactive: N. Korea military might
• Timeline: Nuclear development
• Interactive: The nuclear club
• Satellite image: Nuclear facility
• Special report: Nuclear crisis
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BEIJING, China (CNN) -- Six-nation talks on resolving the North Korea nuclear crisis have begun in Beijing with diplomats on all sides expressing hopes of progress to end the 16-month standoff.

But sharp divisions between North Korea and the United States are likely stand in the way of any breakthrough towards Pyongyang scrapping its nuclear weapons programs and expectations of a resolution remain dim.

Both United States and North Korea will hold bilateral consultations Wednesday at 4 p.m. (0800 GMT) on the sidelines of the talks, Lee Soo-hyuck, head of the South Korean delegation said.

Earlier, in opening remarks at Wednesday's talks, Assistant U.S. Secretary of State James Kelly reiterated that the United States had "no intention" of invading North Korea, while Pyongyang's top delegate called the talks "a very good opportunity" for progress.

The talks -- between North and South Korea, Russia, Japan, China and the United States -- took six months of diplomatic shuffling after a first round last August failed to make any progress other than a loose commitment to meet again.

Unlike the August meeting, this round of discussions, which began Wednesday, has no time limit or deadline.

At loggerheads are Pyongyang and the United States. Both have refused to back down on their stance since the standoff flared in October 2002 when U.S. officials said Pyongyang admitted to secretly pursuing a nuclear weapons program. (Crisis Explainer)

North Korea, labeled a rogue state and part of an axis of evil with Iran and Iraq by U.S. President George W. Bush in 2002, wants a security guarantee from Washington that the U.S. will not attack before it will freeze its nuclear programs.

It also wants fuel and economic aid as well as other concessions.

Just hours before the talks began, North Korea issued a demand for compensation before beginning any freeze of its nuclear program -- a statement aimed at the United States, which demands an immediate shutdown of the activities.

The U.S. says North Korea must first dismantle all its nuclear weapons programs and Washington will not be blackmailed into any concessions.

"The United States seeks complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of all North Korea's nuclear programs, both plutonium and uranium," Kelly said Wednesday.


North Korea praised its ally China for working to set up and host the talks.
North Korea praised its ally China for working to set up and host the talks.

Prior to Wednesday's talks parties hinted they might be willing to accept some sort of compromise if it would lead to a resolution.

Robert Galluci, a former diplomat who held talks with the North Koreans last decade, told CNN "the buzz" in Washington was that Kelly -- who heads the U.S. delegation in Beijing -- would be ready to talk to the North Koreans about a step-by-step process to defuse the crisis.

In recent days Pyongyang has signaled a desire to deal, offering to freeze its nuclear activity in return for energy assistance.

But North Korea continues to reject the Bush administration's demands for the unilateral dismantling of its program.

"The recent flurry of diplomacy is good preparation for these talks and helps in understanding," Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi said as he opened the meeting.

North Korea's top delegate, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, sounded an optimistic note.

"That the six-nation talks have reopened shows the willingness that the nuclear issue can be resolved peacefully," Kim said.

"We hope that disagreement between each party can be narrowed as much as possible and the stalemate between North Korea and the United States can be resolved through dialogue."

New twist

U.S. delegation leader, Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, heads the U.S. delegation.
U.S. delegation leader, Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, heads the U.S. delegation.

Since the previous round of talks, a new twist has developed: Pakistan's revelation that rogue scientist Abdel-Qadeer Khan provided North Korea with technology and know-how to make a uranium-based bomb to complement the country's plutonium-based weapons program.

In recent weeks, progress has been made in connection with the scrapping of other notorious nuclear programs. For example, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi has abandoned his nuclear weapons program, and Iran is talking to the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Kim Jong Il's regime, however, has denied the existence of a uranium program, so getting the North to admit it is high on the U.S. agenda.

U.S. officials believe North Korea has at least one or two nuclear bombs made from plutonium but some experts doubt it has the ability to mount a nuclear warhead on a missile. North Korea has claimed to have reprocessed 8,000 spent plutonium fuel rods at its main Yongbyon reactor -- enough to build up to six nuclear devices.

Galluci said the key issue is whether the North Koreans -- who he said have uranium-enrichment and plutonium-based programs -- will permit international inspections, transparency, and destruction and dismantlement of programs that exist, and whether other countries will put benefits on the table to spur concessions.

"The question (for North Korea) is not so much what they want, but what they are prepared to give up to get it."

Galluci doesn't believe the makeup of an American government in the coming year will matter much in the U.S. negotiating stance.

He expressed doubt that North Korea would get a better deal from a Democratic administration and he believes North Korea should "make the deal now if they could do it."

-- CNN Senior Asia Correspondent Mike Chinoy contributed to this report

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