US envoy heads on surprise trip to North Korea

The top US envoy to North Korean disarmament talks traveled Thursday to the communist country in the first high-level visit by a US official there in more than 4 1/2 years. The surprise trip by Assistant US Secretary of States Christopher Hill comes ahead of the expected resumption of international talks on halting the communist nation's nuclear weapons program, US and Japanese officials said. The trip followed the resolution this week of a banking dispute that had held up progress toward North Korean disarmament for months, and the announcement that UN nuclear monitors would visit the communist nation next week. Hill was visiting the North Korean capital for consultations Thursday and Friday on nuclear disarmament "to move the process forward," said a US State Department spokesman in Washington, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.