Six-party talks to end North Korea's nuclear arms ambitions enter a third day on Friday after envoys settled on a set of tasks the United States said could be carried out this year, rather than a disarmament timetable.
Envoys were seeking consensus on the second stage of disarmament -- permanently disabling the Yongbyon nuclear complex and receiving a full declaration of Pyongyang's atomic arms activities in return for heavy fuel oil shipments.
Ultimately we decided not to put in deadlines yet, chief U.S. envoy Christopher Hill said on Friday. We'll put in deadlines when we have the working groups and we know precisely what we are talking about.
The delegates have broadly agreed on how that phase would unfold. At the start of the latest round of talks on Wednesday, Hill had proposed completing the steps by the end of the year.
My opinion remains the same that all of this is quite doable by the end of the year, he said on Friday.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said on Wednesday North Korea had now shut five main nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, completing the first stage of a disarmament deal reached in February.
The facilities include a reactor and an atomic fuel reprocessing plant that can extract the plutonium that Pyongyang used for its first nuclear test blast last year.
The talks have brought together North and South Korea, the United States, Japan, Russia and China since 2003.
Hill said North Korea still had an incentive to move forward, with talk about other forms of aid and improving oil storage capacity in North Korea.
Asked about North Korea's response in the talks, Japan's chief negotiator, Kenichiro Sasae, told reporters: It's impossible to be satisfied with the other party's attitude.
North Korea's official KCNA news agency warned Japan on Thursday not to use the issue of the abduction by Pyongyang of Japanese citizens -- 13 of whom the North has admitted kidnapping -- as an obstacle to the talks.
If Japan is allowed to pursue such design, the nuclear issue on the peninsula will remain unsettled for an indefinite period like the abduction issue, an issue of bringing the dead to life, it quoted a foreign ministry memorandum as saying.
Concrete progress eluded delegates to the six-way talks until February when North Korea agreed to close Yongbyon in return for an initial 50,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil, which began moving there from South Korea last week.
Under phase two of that agreement, the North will get an additional 950,000 metric tons of fuel oil in return for disabling its atomic facilities and coming clean on its nuclear secrets.
South Korea on Friday began sending 50,000 metric tons of rice aid overland to its neighbor, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said.
Pyongyang quit the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty after throwing out nuclear inspectors in late 2002.
The first phase of the February agreement was delayed for many weeks by a snarl-up over bank funds North Korea demanded it receive from a Macau bank before shutting Yongbyon.