Beijing — The U.S. envoy to international talks on the North Korean nuclear crisis said Thursday that he was optimistic negotiators were nearing a breakthrough.
U.S. chief negotiator Christopher Hill said the talks had produced plans for an initial sequence of steps that could lead to North Korea dismantling its nuclear weapons program.
"I think we've identified a way forward," Hill said late Thursday in China.
Still, analysts said North Korea might be offering steps toward a nuclear freeze with no intention of abandoning its nuclear weapons, and the Bush administration might be touting tentative progress in hopes of claiming a foreign policy victory.
North Korea's chief envoy, Kim Kye-gwan, didn't arrive with a flurry of last-minute demands, as he had in previous negotiations. He made no public mention Thursday of Pyongyang's demand that Washington lift financial sanctions against a Macau bank that's holding $24 million in frozen North Korean money, which had led to a 13-month breakdown of the talks.
Kim said he was "neither optimistic nor pessimistic" and wanted only to "determine whether the United States is trying to abandon its hostile policy against us and come to peaceful coexistence or not."
A South Korean delegate, Chun Yung Woo, said China would circulate a draft agreement today outlining the proposed steps toward providing North Korea with assistance in exchange for steps toward nuclear disarmament.
Hill described the renewal of the talks, which recessed in December and which involve Russia and Japan as well as the U.S., China and North and South Korea, as "a pretty good first day. It did meet expectations."
"We think that if we can get this first good step," Hill said, "it'll give us some momentum to get to the next step and the step after that."
Hill said the first steps in the proposed agreement would unfold quickly, within weeks.