U.S. Envoy Says Progress Possible in North Korea Nuclear Talks

By Vince Crawley
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington –- U.S. negotiators are optimistic about resuming Six-Party Talks on North Korea's nuclear program within weeks, and lead U.S. envoy Christopher Hill says recent discussions with his North Korean counterpart indicate “there is a basis for making some progress this time.”

Hill met with Kim Kye Gwan, vice foreign minister for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, January 16-18 while in Berlin.  Hill stressed that the meetings were an exchange of views, not negotiations, but that the meetings left the impression that progress can be made in the effort to implement the joint agreement signed by the six parties September 19, 2005. (See related article.)

Hill, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told reporters January 22 that he had met in Beijing with China's envoy to the talks, who “agreed on the need to get the Six-Party Talks going as soon as possible.”  As host, China would set the date for the next round of talks.  Hill said his Chinese counterpart expressed interest in resuming the talks as soon as possible, preferably before the Lunar New Year begins February 18.

The Six-Party Talks include representatives from China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, North Korea and the United States. Among the U.S. goals for the talks is the realization of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.

“I would expect that maybe by the end of the week, we’ll have a decision on when we can start the Six-Party process,” Hill later told reporters while switching planes in Tokyo as he headed back to the United States to brief officials in Washington. “So I think everyone’s feeling kind of optimistic about starting the process early. And based on what we’ve heard from the North Koreans in Berlin, we believe there is a basis for making some progress this time.”

A previous round of Six-Party Talks took place in December 2006.

Hill told reporters in Beijing that China’s recent testing of an anti-satellite weapon will not affect U.S. participation in North Korean nuclear talks. The United States has voiced its concern formally about the January 11 orbital test, “but I would say the Six-Party Talks is on a different track,” Hill said. (See related article.)

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters January 22 that the United States is hopeful the Six-Party Talks will resume “in the not too distant future.” McCormack said Hill had “a good round of consultations,” which provides “a good solid basis for making some progress in the next round.”

Transcripts of Hill's remarks are available on the State Department Web page.

For more information on U.S. policy, see The U.S. and the Korean Peninsula and Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.