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Negotiators on North Korea's nuclear programs were set to haggle for a third day Saturday over details on how to begin disarming the communist country, with the main US envoy saying he was encouraged by agreement on broad principles.
"I am hopeful we can get through this. We need some discussions about one or two items," said US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill.
Representatives from the six countries in the talks had spent Friday discussing a Chinese draft agreement outlining measures North Korea had to take, and what sort of aid and guarantees Pyongyang would get in return.
"But with the North Koreans you never know what is important, so we will have to see," Hill told reporters. "If we live in a logical, rational world, we will get through this."
The US as well as China, Japan, Russia and South Korea - all involved in the talks - want North Korea to take its first real steps toward abandoning its nuclear programs since negotiations began in 2003.
The talks have been plagued by deadlock and delays, during which North Korea conducted its first-ever nuclear test in October.
The six countries are seeking consensus on concrete moves for the North to take under a September 2005 pact where Pyongyang pledged to disarm in exchange for aid and security guarantees.
The draft proposal - presented after North Korea agreed in principle to take initial steps to disarm - would grant the communist nation unspecified energy aid for shutting down its main nuclear facilities within two months, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported. Officials declined to confirm details of the draft.
On Friday, Hill said without giving specifics that the North disagreed with wording in one paragraph of the new proposal.
Hill said two other key issues that have previously stalled the negotiations were not problematic this time. They include US restrictions on a bank where the North held accounts for its complicity in alleged financial crimes, and demands that North Korea be given a nuclear reactor for generating electricity.
South Korean envoy Chun Yung-woo said the talks were entering their most important period.
"Today and tomorrow will be the most critical part of the negotiations," he told reporters Saturday.
"Key interests of each country are at stake so it is difficult to assume that there will be an easy agreement," he said.
Pyongyang has also demanded that the United States give up what its calls its "hostile" policy toward North Korea.
Chun, apparently referring to that, said "there is something that North Korea has said every time since long ago as to what should be the basis (for the agreement)."