BEIJING (AP) – Nuclear negotiators said today they had no plans to suspend North Korean disarmament talks despite a lack of progress, and Washington and Pyongyang scheduled a meeting to discuss how to speed up the process.

The Americans will stay “as long as we make progress,” U.S. envoy Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said as delegates prepared to start a 12th straight day of talks. However, he warned, “If we’re not going to make progress we’re not going to be here.”

Hill said the 11th day of talks on Friday was “rather excruciating” and produced little.

“We got some things done, but it’s not as much as I’d like and it’s not going to get us there in the time span that we think we ought to get there,” Hill told reporters.

He expressed hope that the meeting Saturday with the North and China would help speed up the process.

Diplomats say the talks are deadlocked over the North’s insistence on retaining a peaceful nuclear program and the question of what it would receive in exchange for disarming.

The talks coincided with a proposal Friday by European negotiators to Iran that would provide support for a civilian nuclear power program if Tehran renounces atomic weapons. But Hill said the North Koreans didn’t mention the initiative during a one-on-one meeting Friday and he played down comparisons between efforts to keep the two countries from developing atomic arms.

“It’s an example of, you know, why we really need to deal with these problems. But I don’t want to suggest there’s a lot of, you know, cross-pollination there,” he said.

Asked whether the negotiators might take a break from the talks, Hill said that was a possible option that would let them review their work. But he said they haven’t considered doing so yet.

“If we want to go that route, we want to make sure we’ve really locked in the progress, so that when people go back to their capitals we don’t start from the beginning again,” he said.

So far, the talks have produced no breakthroughs in efforts to produce a statement of principles for negotiations aimed at persuading the North to disarm.

Hill said he would meet today with Chinese and North Korean diplomats in hopes of speeding up the process. “We’ve really, really got to get going on this,” he said.

Hill didn’t give any details of discussions Friday, but said some issues that negotiators had thought were previously resolved were reopened for discussion.

Throughout the talks, delegates from the six governments – the two Koreas, the United States, China, Japan and Russia – have expressed determination to make progress but said their meetings were slow and difficult.

Three previous rounds of six-nation talks in Beijing since 2003 have failed to bridge differences.

Pyongyang says it won’t give up nuclear weapons until Washington discards its “hostile policies” toward the North, removes any nuclear threat from the Korean Peninsula and normalizes relations with the country’s Stalinist government.

The North wants aid in exchange for freezing nuclear development, then more for dismantling the program. Washington wants to see the program verifiably dismantled before it provides any rewards.

Hill also challenged the North’s insistence on retaining a peaceful nuclear program, pointing to its record of converting a research reactor for weapons use.

“We have a state that has taken research reactors and turned them into bomb-making reactors,” he told reporters at his hotel. “So we have to be very, very careful about what we’re talking about, in terms of talking about the technology.”

Hill was referring to the North’s main nuclear complex at Yongbyon, purportedly built for research with Soviet assistance but later turned into the headquarters for the North’s nuclear weapons program.

The chief North Korean negotiator, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, said Thursday that his government should be allowed to retain the right to conduct “peaceful nuclear activities.”

The package offered to Iran on Friday by the European Union would give Tehran trade, political and security cooperation and access to nuclear fuel in exchange for a halt to the pursuit of technology that could make atomic weapons.

French nuclear expert Francois Gere said the European proposal to let Iran develop a civilian nuclear program would never work for North Korea, pointing out that Pyongyang had abandoned the international Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

“North Korea can very likely explode a bomb in a few months. Iran is five years, maybe 10 years, from that capability,” he said.

North Korea has said it could rejoin the NPT and admit international inspectors if the six-nation talks in China are successful.

The meeting Friday was conducted by Hill’s deputy, Joseph DeTrani, and the North Korean second-in-command, Ri Gun, according to China’s official Xinhua News Agency. Hill said he and Kim, his North Korean counterpart, didn’t meet.

The nuclear crisis erupted in late 2002 after U.S. officials said the North admitted violating a 1994 deal by embarking on a secret uranium enrichment program. The North also claimed in February that it had nuclear weapons.


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