North Korea Nuclear Talks: Officials Report Progress

KUALA LUMPUR -- With progress reported for the first time in 7 1/2 months, U.S. and North Korean negotiators met Wednesday to work out details on implementing a historic nuclear accord.

Officials warned that the deal, aimed at ending concerns the communist North is developing nuclear weapons, still could fall apart.

But while chief U.S. negotiator Thomas Hubbard said "a lot of work'' remains, both sides sounded cautiously optimistic after worrying aloud just days earlier over the depth of their differences.

"Over the past two days we have made some progress in some of the key issues,'' Hubbard said as he left the second of two sessions Wednesday. "We have not yet solved all of the key issues.''

Lee Young Ho, an official in the North Korean delegation, made an almost identical statement, adding that both sides would consult their capitals.

The reclusive, hard-line North is threatening that if the talks fail, it will begin reprocessing 8,000 spent reactor fuel rods, which U.S. officials say could yield enough plutonium for three to four bombs. It is believed to have enough for one bomb already.

The progress apparently came during a three-hour meeting Tuesday night, just a few hours after the North recalled two members of its seven-man negotiating team.

The key dispute has been the source of new reactors to replace the North's nuclear facilities, which it has agreed to dismantle under an Oct. 21 accord with Washington.

The United States has said they must come from South Korea, the only country willing to pay most of the $4 billion cost. North Korea has refused, citing safety concerns, but is believed to be acting out of national pride.

North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency reported a breakthrough, but it appeared to be premature and possibly a negotiating tactic.