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China draft studied by nuclear envoys

BEIJING, Dec 10 – Negotiators haggled Wednesday over a Chinese proposal on how to check North Korea’s claims about its atomic activities in a third day of talks aimed at ending the communist state’s nuclear drive.

Discussions at a Chinese government compound in western Beijing were set to focus on the exact wording of a verification protocol, based on a draft which Beijing handed out Tuesday to participants in the six-nation talks.

Envoys from some of China’s partners in the long-running negotiations have already suggested changes to the wording of the draft.

"The Chinese obviously were making efforts to amalgamate different people’s drafts, including our own. So like others, we had some suggestions," US chief delegate Christopher Hill told reporters ahead of the day’s talks.

"I think the key thing is to figure out whether this is a draft that everybody should work on or not," he said.

He said he had received feedback from Washington overnight, mainly details such as "new language suggestions."

The dispute over verification is the latest snag in a drawn-out effort to undo the nuclear programme of the secretive North Korean regime, which tested an atomic weapon for the first time in October 2006.

After distributing the draft document, China opened a series of one-on-one consultations with other participants to discuss it, diplomatic sources said.

Japan’s chief negotiator Akitaka Saiki said there were "many places" in the draft where improvements could be made, according to the Kyodo news agency.

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"We are making efforts to reach an agreement by removing misunderstandings caused by ambiguous expressions, and by replacing them with clearly verifiable and transparent expressions," chief South Korean envoy Kim Sook said.

"It’s not that we have narrowed differences in our opinions but that we are in a process of reflecting the opinions of individual countries through more in-depth discussions."

The talks, launched in 2003, group North and South Korea with China, Japan, Russia and the United States.

All envoys except that of North Korea had arrived at the meeting venue by mid-morning Wednesday for the third day’s session, sources said.

The talks were initially expected to end Wednesday, but participants were uncertain if this would still be the case.

"We originally planned to wrap up the talks today, but we have to wait and see," South Korea’s Kim said.

The six-party effort to resolve the North Korean nuclear impasse is one of the most intractable diplomatic issues that the George W. Bush administration will pass on to president-elect Barack Obama.

The nations appeared to make a breakthrough last year when Pyongyang agreed to disable facilities at its plutonium-producing Yongbyon nuclear complex and reveal its atomic activities.

The deal — which also called for the delivery of a million tonnes of fuel oil or energy aid of equivalent value — has hit multiple snags.

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But in October, following an apparent agreement on verification procedures, the United States said it would drop the North from a terrorism blacklist, and Pyongyang reversed plans to restart its plutonium-producing nuclear plants.


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