American negotiators were returning Monday from weekend talks in Berlin with North Korean officials without resolving a dispute over nuclear reactors, U.S. officials said.
Although the talks were halted two days early, Administration officials insisted that there was no breakdown in the negotiations. And they said the United States is not reconsidering its insistence that South Korea be the source for safer reactors to replace North Korea's plutonium-producing equipment--a demand Pyongyang has been rejecting for months.
"There is absolutely no change in that position," a U.S. official said after the two sides agreed to what was described as a "pause" in the negotiations.
"There have been some suggestions" made during the weekend talks, Secretary of State Warren Christopher said Monday. "Our people will come back and review the discussion and we'll be able to react to what proposals will be put on the table at that time.
"I certainly would not describe the discussions as having been broken down or broken off," he said.
State Department spokeswoman Christine Shelly said at a briefing: "The parties decided that they wanted to have consultations with their governments, so our team is coming back. It's an outcome which is neither agreement on the light-water reactor nor a breakdown in the talks."
Shelly said no specific date for resuming negotiations had been set.
"It's my understanding that they felt they had got as far as they could," a U.S. official said in describing the judgment reached by negotiator Gary Samore and his delegation after talking to North Korean negotiators over the weekend.
An agreement reached in October was intended to freeze a program at the Yongbyon nuclear complex that American analysts said was producing a bomb's worth of weapons-grade material a year.
In return, the United States pledged that North Korea would receive two light-water, less dangerous reactors worth about $4 billion. South Korea, which with Japan is to bear most of the cost, was to provide the reactors.
But North Korea has been balking at reactors from archrival South Korea; international inspectors, though, have given assurances that North Korea's nuclear program has remained frozen.
A breakdown in the negotiations would be a foreign policy setback for the Clinton Administration, which claimed the accord as a breakthrough in defusing a crisis in the Korean peninsula as well as a crisis over nuclear proliferation.
North Korea was demanding agreement by April 21, viewing the date as a deadline, while the United States saw it as a target date.