14 March 2008

U.S. hails progress in N. Korea nuke talks


The United States and North Korea made progress Thursday in overcoming obstacles that have stalled a major nuclear disarmament deal but remained short of a breakthrough, the chief U.S. negotiator said.

Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Christopher Hill told reporters that the talks in Geneva were probably the most substantive that Washington has had with North Korea since problems developed in December over disarming Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program.

"We certainly are further along in this consultation than we were when I arrived this morning," Hill said after meetings with North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan. "There has been progress."

Hill said he wanted to report to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice before going into more detail.

"We've had good discussions on all substantive issues," Hill said. "Whether we've resolved these issues and achieved our goals I'm not prepared to say."

Kim separately denied allegations that North Korea had a secret uranium enrichment program or that it had any connection with a nuclear program in Syria.

"We did not have, we don't have and we will not have," Kim said.

Hill went into the Geneva discussions insisting that Pyongyang fully reveal all details of its nuclear weapons program.

"We need to get some movement. We're already some 10 weeks behind," Hill said, referring to the North Korean commitment to make a full declaration of its program by December 31.

North Korea agreed last year to provide a complete list of its nuclear programs and disable its facilities and its main reactor by the end of 2007 as part of a disarmament deal.

For its part, Washington promised aid and said it would consider removing North Korea from terrorism and economic sanctions blacklists.

Pyongyang made unprecedented progress, shutting down and starting to disable its main nuclear reactor last year. But the talks have faced an impasse since the North missed its December deadline.

North Korea complained that promised energy aid was late in coming. Washington said Pyongyang still had to provide a detailed declaration of its nuclear programs as a condition for receiving the assistance, and North Korea insisted it gave the U.S. a list of its nuclear programs in November.

South Korea, China, Japan and Russia have been working with the United States to resolve the dispute.

Hill said the United States, South Korea and China were well on the way to living up to their commitment to provide energy aid to North Korea in exchange for the declaration and disarmament.

"I think there's a realization that the U.S. has just in the past few days completed or is completing its requirement on the heavy fuel oil," Hill said. "I know that the Republic of Korea and China are working on heavy fuel oil equivalents."

"I think we are more or less OK on that," Hill said.

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