SEOUL A U.S. nuclear envoy was scheduled to go to Beijing on Sunday for international talks that will likely be the Bush administration's last chance to move forward a sputtering disarmament-for-aid deal with destitute North Korea.
Five regional powers will begin deliberations with North Korea from Monday to try to have the isolated state accept a system to verify claims it made about its nuclear arms program in exchange for much needed aid and better diplomatic standing.
"I am not very optimistic," South Korean nuclear envoy Kim Sook told local media before heading to Beijing.
Analysts do not expect North Korea to make any serious moves until President-elect Barack Obama takes office in January.
They say the only way there will be major progress in Beijing is if U.S. envoy Christopher Hill offers significant last-minute concessions such as agreeing to a flexible verification system where secretive Pyongyang can prohibit inspectors from looking into parts of its nuclear program it wants to keep in the dark.
"The North is expected to focus on getting as much energy and economic aid as possible under the principle of 'action for action'," said Paik Hak-soon, the director at the Center for North Korean studies at the South's Sejong Institute.
Conservatives in Washington have criticized Hill for being too flexible with North Korea and not obtaining detailed information about its suspected program to enrich uranium for weapons or proliferating technology to countries such as Syria.