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By Jack Kim Sat Jul 12, 6:21 AM ET

BEIJING (Reuters) – North Korea pledged on Saturday to complete steps to disable its nuclear facilities by the end of October, at six-country talks aimed at disarming the communist state in return for aid and better diplomatic relations.


International envoys did not reach final agreement on a detailed guideline of how to verify the North’s account of its nuclear activities made last month. But they mandated a working group to draw up the details.

“The protocol gets very complex, but it’s not just saying what verifiers will have a right to do — that is, to visit sites — but it also spells out what they can do when they visit the sites,” chief U.S. envoy Christopher Hill told reporters.

Hill said he saw no big problems in reaching agreement.

But South Korean envoy Kim Sook echoed lingering skepticism in the long-running effort to disarm the isolated North that has been marred by delays and accusations of broken promises. He said it was just the easier part of the job that had been done.

“I am not optimistic at all about what’s ahead, especially as implementing the verification guideline is a very difficult job where we need to coordinate the different positions and interests of the six parties,” he told reporters after the talks.

The impoverished North will get all 1 million tonnes of heavy fuel oil by the same date as promised under the disarmament deal with South Korea, the United States, Japan, Russia and China, a joint statement issued at the end of three days of talks said.

The talks aimed at coaxing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program are the first in nine months and come after Pyongyang produced last month an inventory of nuclear activities, one of the steps pledged under the deal.

The United States was seeking a standard package of measures to verify North Korea’s own account of its nuclear program, Hill said earlier on Saturday.

“We’re not asking for anything unusual,” he told reporters.

South Korean officials said while there was progress at talks on providing energy aid to the impoverished state in return for steps to eventually dismantle its nuclear program, differences remained between the North and the rest on how to verify the North’s declaration.

The six parties did agree to ask the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for verification help when needed, the joint press statement said.

Hill said he hoped the envoys will continue informal discussions during a regional forum later this month in Singapore.

In exchange for disablement steps and for handing over last month the declaration originally due at the end of 2007, North Korea has been receiving much-needed energy aid and was also promised improved diplomatic ties with Washington and Tokyo.

(Additional reporting by Lindsay Beck and Chris Buckley; Editing by Jerry Norton)