Outcome hard to predict: China

SINGAPORE, FEB. 26. Though no agreement was reached today during the six-party talks in Beijing on North Korea's nuclear-weapons programme, China said that a "certain consensus'' had been fashioned despite differences.

The specifics were not spelt out in view of the sensitive nature of the closed-door sessions.

Indicating that the talks would continue, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Zhang Qiyue, said that the outcome was "hard to predict''.

While China's official comment about the consensus pertained to the talks held yesterday, the indication was that the delegates had not yet done with the present round. The North Korea, the U.S., China, South Korea, Japan and Russia are the participants in this second-round of multilateral talks.

Two key proposals came into focus on the sidelines of today's talks. There was, however, no authoritative confirmation of the proposal attributed to the DPRK.

The proposition is that the DPRK is willing to consider the demands that it give up its nuclear weapons programme. Regional diplomats and analysts tend to interpret this as a sign of its new `flexibility'. The move to set certain terms is seen to reflect its intention to adhere to `principles'. The chief North Korean delegate, Kim Kye-gwan, had formally offered to show flexibility consistent with the principles.

Another significant proposal doing the rounds on the margins of the conference was the offer by some participants to provide North Korea with economic assistance towards a possible settlement of the nuclear issue.

South Korea, given its ethnic ties with the DPRK, formally took the lead in this regard. Japan and China evinced interest. The Chinese spokeswoman clarified that economic aid from Beijing would have nothing to do with what the DPRK might wish to accomplish during these talks. She said China had, for years, extended economic help to the DPRK.

The Chinese Foreign Minister, Li Zhaoxing, who hosted a reception for the delegates, said that they "should not allow differences to impede the process of the dialogue''.

He cautioned against swerving away from the "direction of seeking a political solution to the problem''.

Besides the plenary sessions, the delegates held several bilateral meetings. The chief U.S. delegate, James Kelly, and his North Korean counterpart held a one-to-one session.

The overall effort today was to firm up a language of `consensus' for a `document' that could be released at the end of this round.