October 3, 2008

US Nuclear Envoy to Leave North Korea for South 3 October

Text of report in English by South Korean news agency Yonhap

SEOUL, Oct. 3 (Yonhap) - Chief US nuclear envoy Christopher Hill will separately meet with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts in Seoul later Friday [ 3 Oct] after he returns from a three-day trip to North Korea aimed at saving a multilateral disarmament deal, South Korean officials said.

Hill travelled overland to Pyongyang on Wednesday to meet with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Kye-gwan [Kim Kye Gwan], and other officials on a mission to stop the country from reviving its atomic weapons drive.

His trip, originally scheduled to end on Thursday, was extended by another day, prompting hopes for progress.

After his return to Seoul via the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom [P'anmunjo'm], Hill plans to separately brief his South Korean and Japanese counterparts, Kim Suk [Kim Sook] and Akitaka Saiki, on the results of his trip, an official at the Foreign Ministry said, requesting anonymity.

"There is no plan for the three to meet together at the moment," the official said without elaborating.

From Seoul, Hill, who also serves as assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, is scheduled to fly to Beijing on Saturday to meet Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei, who chairs the six-way talks aimed at denuclearizing North Korea, according to the same South Korean officials.

Tensions have mounted since Pyongyang moved to resume its nuclear activity in recent weeks, apparently in protest at Washington's refusal to take it off the terrorism sanctions list. The US insists that the North must first agree to an intrusive verification protocol on its nuclear declaration.

The North announced in mid-August a halt in the slow-going disablement of its nuclear facilities in Yongbyon under a 2007 aid- for-denuclearization deal with the US, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.

Late last month, North Korea began backtracking from the deal, telling the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it was reactivating a facility in Yongbyon, where weapons-grade plutonium can be extracted from spent fuel rods.

South Korean intelligence sources said that the North may also be restoring its atomic weapons test site and preparing for another test of long-range missiles. They cited increased activities in the areas as evidence.

North Korea's real intentions are still unclear, but many analysts view the measures as a bargaining tactic.

They point out that North Korea must be fully aware that US spy satellites are closely monitoring those facilities. The North, in fact, has allowed IAEA inspectors and US monitors to stay at Yongbyon so that they can witness what is going on there.

Originally published by Yonhap news agency, Seoul, in English 0734 3 Oct 08.

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