U.S. Envoy in North Korea To Urge Progress On Nuclear Arms Talks

By Stephen Kaufman
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - U.S. envoy Christopher Hill’s unexpected visit to North Korea comes at “the right time” for consultations between the United States and North Korea on implementing the February 13 agreement designed to rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons.

Hill, who is assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, arrived in North Korea June 21, becoming the most senior U.S. official to visit the country since his predecessor, James Kelly, met with officials in Pyongyang in October 2002.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said June 21 it is “the appropriate moment” for Hill’s visit, coming amid similar consultations in the region with members of the Six-Party Talks on Korean nuclear issues.  Those talks involve North Korea, South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the United States.

The assistant secretary is doing “a full range of face-to-face consultations” in the region, and went to Pyongyang to meet with North Korean leaders to emphasize the U.S. commitment to fulfilling its obligations under the February 13 agreement, as well as to convey the importance of moving on to the next phase, the spokesman said.  (See related article.)

“[I]t's an important moment in the Six-Party Talks because we are testing the proposition that North Korea has made that strategic decision to abandon its nuclear weapons programs and to abandon its nuclear programs,” McCormack said.

The process had been “sidetracked” by the delay in transferring frozen North Korean funds from Banco Delta Asia (BDA) in Macao, he said, but “we are at a point where we're getting the talks back on the footing where we were prior to the BDA issue arising.”  (See related article.)

McCormack also said it was time for new focus to “impart momentum back to the six-party process.”

Hill’s visit is “an opportunity to do that face to face and … we thought it was appropriate, given that he was doing these similar consultations with other members of the Six-Party Talks in advance of what we hope is a new round or a next meeting in Beijing, as of yet unscheduled,” McCormack said.

He added that the other four members of the talks “fully supported” the decision to send Hill to North Korea, and added that there have been previous bilateral consultations between the two countries as recently as January during a session of the multilateral talks that were being held in Berlin.

“[T]alking and dialogue is not a reward,” but is part of the diplomatic process, he said.  However, Hill’s visit “does underscore the fact that we are serious about doing everything we can to move the process forward” within the confines of the Six-Party Talks and U.S. foreign policy principles.

McCormack said earlier Hill’s visit to Pyongyang was not anticipated when Hill left Washington for the region on June 15.

The assistant secretary has met with his counterpart, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, as well as Ri Gun, the country's deputy nuclear negotiator.  McCormack said Hill also plans to meet with Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun before leaving the country June 22 for South Korea and Japan.

For more information on U.S. policy, see Limiting Nuclear Weapons and The U.S. and the Korean Peninsula.