US nuclear envoy wraps up talks with North Korea

Assistant secretary of state spends extra day in communist nation to try to persuade Pyongyang to resume dismantling nuclear program.

October 3, 2008 08:33
2 minute read.
US nuclear envoy wraps up talks with North Korea

Chris hill 224.88. (photo credit: AP)


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Washington's chief US nuclear envoy wrapped up his trip to North Korea on Friday after spending an extra day in the communist nation to try to persuade Pyongyang to resume dismantling its nuclear program. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill was expected back in Seoul later Friday after three days in North Korea for talks with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Kye Gwan, at the reclusive nation's invitation, US officials said. "Now we'll see what these discussions yield," US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington on Thursday, adding that he had no details about the discussions. Hill is to brief South Korean nuclear negotiator Kim Sook about the trip. Japan's nuclear envoy, Akitaka Saiki, also was scheduled to fly to Seoul on Friday. North Korea began disabling a nuclear reprocessing plant in Yongbyon, but abruptly stopped in mid-August, citing Washington's refusal to remove it from a terrorism blacklist. The US maintains that the agreement required North Korea to submit to a thorough verification of its nuclear accounting - a demand Pyongyang rejected. North Korea's defiance comes amid concern about authoritarian leader Kim Jong Il's health. Kim, 66, has not been seen in public since he reportedly suffered a stroke in August. Hill phoned Thursday from Pyongyang to say he was staying in North Korea for another day but did not provide any details due to concerns about the security of communications, McCormack said. He said Hill did not present Pyongyang with any proposals for substantive changes to the verification scheme, but rather suggestions on how the "choreography" or timing of the process could be adjusted, perhaps by involving North Korea's main ally, China. "There have been various plans in the past where instruments, declarations, et cetera, have been deposited with Beijing and then shared subsequently with the other five parties, while other commitments from the five parties move forward," McCormack said. However, it was unclear Friday how Pyongyang reacted to the face-saving measure designed to salvage the disarmament pact. "The ball is really in the North Koreans' court," McCormack reiterated. The two Koreas, meanwhile, held their first official talks in eight months on Thursday inside the DMZ. The military talks were brief, with North Korea demanding that South Korea stop sending propaganda leaflets critical of its leader over the border. Officials threatened to expel South Koreans working at joint projects in the North if the propaganda does not halt, the North's official KCNA news agency reported. The two Koreas agreed in 2004 to officially end decades of fierce rhetorical battles using leaflets, loudspeakers and radio broadcasts. However, activists still send large balloons into the North carrying anti-Kim Jong Il leaflets - and sometimes $1 bills.

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