Hill: Nuclear talks to restart soon

Updated: 2007-01-22 16:10

North Korea's negotiator for the six-party talks Kim Kye-gwan arrives at Beijing's airport January 22, 2007. North Korea has agreed to resume six-country talks aimed at winding up its nuclear arms program soon. [Reuters]
BEIJING -- The US envoy to talks on North Korea's nuclear program said Monday he believed there was potential for progress in the next round of negotiations and that China would soon announce a start date.

The comments follow pledges by the key players, Washington and Pyongyang, to strive for progress in the slow-moving negotiations.

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The Chinese-organized international talks took on added urgency after North Korea alarmed its neighbors in October by exploding a nuclear bomb. But the latest round ended in December in Beijing with no breakthroughs.

US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told reporters that Washington was disappointed with the lack of progress in the December round but that he believed there was "a basis for making progress" when negotiators meet again, without giving details.

Meanwhile, South Korean media reported that North Korea has agreed to discuss the disarmament of its nuclear weapons when talks resume, which would mark a shift in the North's stance.

North Korea agreed to directly address moves to disarm when Hill and the North's chief nuclear envoy, Kim Kye Gwan, met in Berlin last week, the Yonhap news agency reported, citing unidentified diplomatic sources.

Previously, Pyongyang said it would not discuss nuclear disarmament unless the United States first lifted financial restrictions imposed for the North's alleged counterfeiting and money laundering.

Separate talks between the US and North Korea on the financial sanctions issue were also expected to resume soon, but no date or location had been fixed yet, Hill said.

"I think they will be very soon, probably the same time or before the six party talks," he said.

Hill said that in talks Sunday with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei, the two sides agreed the high-level negotiations should start again "as soon as possible."

"We hope that the Chinese government will be able to announce soon the start up of the talks," he said. China, the host of the negotiations, is expected to arrange a date for the talks with the parties to the talks, including North Korea, Japan, South Korea, and Russia, Hill said.

North Korea's Kim arrived in Beijing Monday for talks with the Chinese side, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, without giving specifics.

South Korea's nuclear envoy, Chun Yung-woo, also arrived in Beijing for talks and a South Korean Foreign Ministry official said on customary condition of anonymity that he was to meet China's Wu.

Hill was due to return to Washington Monday after a tour to brief Japan, South Korea and China about his meeting in Berlin with Kim. The two sides agreed then to restart talks as soon as possible and strive for concrete progress.

Report: Nuclear freeze for aid

North Korea and the United States came close to agreement last week that North Korea freeze its nuclear activity and allow international monitoring in exchange for aid, a news report said Monday.

The potential movement toward a breakthrough came during talks in Berlin last week between the North's nuclear envoy, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, and his US counterpart, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, South Korea's Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported, citing unidentified officials in Seoul and Beijing.

Kim offered to halt the operation of the five-megawatt reactor at the North's main nuclear complex and other nuclear activity while allowing monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency as first steps toward dismantling its nuclear programs, the paper said.

In return, Kim demanded that the United States provide the impoverished North with economic and energy aid and show "sincerity" in efforts to resolve a dispute over Washington's imposition of financial restrictions against Pyongyang, the report said.

Hill responded positively to Kim's request for aid, the paper said.

It did not say how the US diplomat reacted to the North's request over the financial dispute, but said the US is expected to negotiate how to relax the restrictions in financial talks with the North expected this week.

South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon declined to confirm the report, but said the Berlin talks broadly touched upon the financial issue.

Song also told YTN television that the US and the North have the willingness to resolve the row in a way that "fulfills each other's needs." He didn't elaborate.

The financial row was the main sticking point that deadlocked last month's six-party nuclear talks involving China, Japan, Russia, the United States and the two Koreas, the first such session since the North's nuclear test in October.

A date has not been set for the resumption of the international nuclear talks, but Hill said after the Berlin meetings that the sides agreed to meet as soon as possible.

South Korea's nuclear envoy, Chun Yung-woo, left Monday for Beijing on a two-day trip for talks with his Chinese counterpart. Chun plans to meet Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei later Monday, according to a Foreign Ministry official who spoke on customary condition of anonymity citing policy.

Song, the South's foreign minister, said Chun's discussion with Wu will be about when to resume the nuclear negotiations and how to make progress when they reopen.

Song also indicated that Chun could meet his North Korean counterpart Kim, who reportedly arrived in Beijing Monday for talks with the Chinese side.

"Chief envoys to the six-party talks can meet at anytime and anywhere if they deem it necessary," he said.

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