Fri, Jun 22, 2007 - Page 5 News List

US envoy in Pyongyang for two days

PUSHING FORWARD Christopher Hill said he hopes to get the six-party talks process moving to make up for the time lost after a February agreement

AFP , SEOUL

US negotiator Christopher Hill flew to North Korea at Pyongyang's invitation yesterday to push for swift progress on nuclear disarmament, the most senior US official to visit in nearly five years.

Hill's trip follows an apparent breakthrough in implementing a deal to scrap the country's nuclear programs, and the resolution of a row over the North's frozen assets that had hindered progress.

UN nuclear watchdog inspectors are due in Pyongyang on Tuesday to discuss procedures for shutting down the Yongbyon reactor, which produces the raw material for bomb-making plutonium.

In a related development, China said Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi (楊潔箎) will visit Pyongyang on July 2 and July 3, with nuclear disarmament on the agenda.

Japan's public broadcaster NHK showed Hill arriving in a small plane on a wet day in Pyongyang. An aide held an umbrella over him as he emerged out of a bus bearing the logo of North Korea's Air Koryo.

Hill told Xinhua news agency that he hopes to "get the six-party talks process moving," referring to a forum grouping the two Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and the US which produced a Feb. 13 disarmament deal.

"We hope we can make up for some time we lost this spring," he said after being greeted by a smiling Ri Gun, director of the foreign ministry's America Bureau.

Choson Sinbo, a pro-North newspaper published in Tokyo which often reflects Pyongyang's official thinking, said the disarmament process may now speed up.

South Korea's foreign ministry said Hill would meet counterpart Kim Kye-gwan, who extended the invitation, and also with vice foreign minister Kang Sok-ju, who is close to leader Kim Jong-il.

It said they would discuss a "road map" on implementing the February deal and the normalization of bilateral relations.

The US State Department said that Hill would spend the night in Pyongyang and leave today.

Hill's trip is the first to the North by a top department official since October 2002, when James Kelly confronted the North with alleged evidence of a secret nuclear program.

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