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    No breakthrough in North Korea nuclear talks - Japanese diplomat

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    Japan is not optimistic about a breakthrough in a new round of six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program, Japan's envoy said Thursday.

    BEIJING, December 21 (RIA Novosti) - Japan is not optimistic about a breakthrough in a new round of six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program, Japan's envoy said Thursday.

    Russia, China, Japan, the U.S., South Korea and North Korea resumed talks December 18 to convince the secretive Communist state to abandon its nuclear program. The talks were suspended for 13 months, during which time North Korea conducted its first nuclear weapons test, and also tested ballistic missiles.

    "The situation remains serious, and there is no prospect of a breakthrough," Kenichiro Sasae said after the fourth day of talks in Beijing, adding that the talks were deadlocked over North Korea's inflexible position on financial issues.

    Late last year, the U.S. accused North Korea of printing counterfeit dollars and laundering money through foreign banks, and ordered Macao-based Macau Delta Asia bank to freeze North Korean accounts holding $24 million.

    At the resumed talks, Pyongyang has demanded that the sanctions be lifted and also insisted on its status as a nuclear power, which means that negotiations, initially launched in 2003 to persuade the North to give up its nuclear ambitions after it withdrew from the NPT, could switch onto an arms reduction track.

    On Wednesday, the talks shifted to a bilateral format, and the delegations are set to gather at the negotiating table Friday with a possibility of issuing a statement that may reaffirm the importance of further negotiations and the willingness of all sides to reach positive results at the talks.

    U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill announced today that he planned to leave for Washington on Saturday, which may indirectly indicate that the participants will wrap up the current round Friday.

    A delegation led by O Kwang Chol, president of North Korea's foreign trade bank, arrived in Beijing Tuesday to hold separate talks with U.S. representatives on unfreezing Pyongyang's bank accounts, but reached an apparent deadlock as well, judging by the official silence on the results of the negotiations.

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