North Korea Talks on Track, U.S. Negotiator Says

By Judy Aita
USINFO Staff Writer

New York - Characterizing two days of meetings as "good, comprehensive and businesslike," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill says it appears that talks to end North Korea's nuclear programs are on track.

According to an agreement reached in Beijing during the Six-Party Talks February 13, in 60 days, North Korea will shut down and seal its main nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, allow international verification and provide a list of all its nuclear sites.  (See related article.)

"There was a sense of optimism on both sides that we will get through this 60-day period," Ambassador Hill, the senior U.S. negotiator for the talks, said March 6 at a press conference in New York.  "For now, we feel we are on the right track" for meeting the short-term goals laid out in the February 13 agreement.

The Six-Party Talks are aimed at reaching a comprehensive agreement on North Korea's abandonment of its nuclear programs in exchange for international economic, humanitarian and energy assistance.  The six parties - China, Japan, Russia, South Korea, North Korea and the United States - set the 60-day timetable as the first step.  The next round of Six-Party Talks is scheduled for March 19 in Beijing.

Hill said he believed that North Korea is "prepared to live up to all their obligations."  He pointed out that North Korea already had invited International Atomic Energy Agency Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei to Pyongyang for talks.

The ambassador said that he was encouraged by North Korea's willingness to look ahead, not just to the end of the 60-day phase but on to the more difficult phases ahead, including the disabling of its nuclear reactor.

"This process, not unlike a video game, gets more and more difficult as you go into more and more levels.  We'll get through this first phase," Hill said.  "It's looking good for that.  We've got an approach for the second phase, which I think is encouraging.  Then we have to see how we do."

Hill met with North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye-gwan for more than eight hours March 5 and March 6 for one of five "working groups" to discuss regional issues set up under the February 13 agreement.

The Americans and North Koreans discussed pending bilateral issues at this working group.  Other groups are focusing on achieving a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, the normalization of Japan-North Korean relations, economic and energy cooperation, and Northeast Asia peace and security.


Hill said that a considerable amount of time was spent discussing North Korea's place on the list of countries supporting terrorism, the "legal and political aspects" of establishing diplomatic relations and the need to resolve the issue of North Korea's highly enriched uranium program prior to any final agreement.

Emphasizing the importance of North Korea's "living up to its part of the bargain, which is complete denuclearization," Hill said that the United States is committed to working to establish diplomatic relations.

"We cannot have a denuclearization process that leaves out highly enriched uranium," the ambassador said.  "We cannot have the denuclearization of North Korea if highly enriched uranium is still out there.  We have to have complete clarity on that issue."

Arrangements are being made for nuclear experts to meet to begin tackling the highly enriched uranium issue, he said.

Hill said he would like to see the Six-Party Talks set "as fast a pace as possible," with short-term goals "measured in months, not years."

"We certainly believe that the faster we go, the steadier we'll be," he said.

Hill was upbeat about the Six-Party Talks, which had been stalled for 18 months.

"I know there are skeptics out there," he said.  "I know people have seen this issue over the years ... but I will say that we have very, very tight deadlines, short time spans here, and we have six parties who, for now, all want to get this done."

For more information on U.S. policies, see The U.S. and the Korean Peninsula.