A top South Korean official said yesterday that he had relayed to North Korea the chief US nuclear negotiator's desire to visit the communist country for talks.
South Korean Unification Minister Chung Dong-young said he delivered US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill's message during last week's inter-Korean Cabinet-level talks in Pyongyang.
"Should Hill's visit to the North be realized, it would serve as an opportunity to further solidify the outcome of the six-party talks," Chung told a parliamentary committee yesterday.
The latest six-party nuclear talks -- the fourth round since 2003 -- produced a landmark accord on Monday in which North Korea agreed to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for economic aid, security assurances and improved ties with the US.
North Korea has since issued hardline rhetoric throwing that commitment into question. The country said on Tuesday that it won't dismantle its nuclear program unless Washington gives it civilian nuclear reactors to generate power.
Hill was in Seoul on Monday last week for last-minute strategy talks before flying to Beijing the following day for the latest round of six-nation negotiations. At the time he met Chung, who departed for the North the following day, as well as Song Min-soon, his South Korean counterpart at the Beijing meetings.
After the Beijing talks wrapped up, Hill said he was willing to visit North Korea to keep channels of communication open, but many factors would determine whether such a visit could be made.
The mass-circulation Chosun Ilbo newspaper reported yesterday that Hill's plan faced opposition from US officials with hardline views on the North. Should that be overcome, his visit could come next month ahead of the next scheduled round of six-nation talks, it said.
The paper cited an unidentified South Korean government official as saying that Hill showed a "strong desire" to visit the North and "consult directly" with its leader Kim Jong-il on efforts to get North Korea to disarm.
However, there would be no guarantee that Kim would meet with Hill and not demand to see a higher-ranking official.
US State Department spokeswoman Darla Jordan in Washington declined to comment on the report.
South Korea's Foreign Ministry suggested any visit by Hill would be positive for the ongoing efforts to get North Korea to disarm its nuclear weapons.