Talks on the North Korean nuclear issue have ended for now in Beijing. Negotiators were able to produce only a vague plan to proceed with North Korea's nuclear disarmament.
The United States was hoping to complete the process by the end of this year. But negotiators weren't even able to produce deadlines for North Korea to take the important first step of producing an inventory of its nuclear programs — as a prelude to shutting them all down.
A statement released as the talks ground to a halt said North Korea remains committed to declaring and disabling all of its nuclear assets.
In August, working groups will get together to study the details of what needs to be done next.
In September, a full meeting of representatives to the six-party talks will go over what the working groups have produced and lay out a road map for the rest of the process.
After that, a meeting of foreign ministers — U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her counterparts in the other five countries — will gather to discuss a larger security mechanism for all of Northeast Asia.
Many technical issues remain, including how to permanently disarm a nuclear reactor and how to deliver the equivalent of a million tons of heavy fuel oil to the North Koreans.
North Korea also wants to be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. A working group of representatives from just the two nations will discuss that and other diplomatic issues.
The process is likely to get more difficult as it goes along. The inventory is seen as a critical informational step — revealing how much fissile material it has, how many bombs it has made and other details of its nuclear efforts.