A team led by a US State Department nuclear envoy entered North Korea yesterday to persuade Pyongyang to declare its nuclear activities as called for in a six-country disarmament deal, an official said.
US envoy Sung Kim led a similar delegation to the secretive state about two weeks ago, pressing for an inventory of its fissile material and nuclear weaponry and for answers to US charges that it enriched uranium for weapons and transferred technology to Syria.
Kim crossed into the North by land over the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone border, a US embassy official in Seoul said.
North Korea failed to disclose the list of its nuclear activities by the Dec. 31 deadline last year set in the disarmament deal it reached with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the US.
If it makes the nuclear declaration, Washington will start to take North Korea off its terrorism blacklist and lift a trading ban. Kim’s return visit to Pyongyang reflects an accelerated US effort to secure the declaration, analysts have said.
The declaration, to be made formally to the host of the six-party talks, China, will likely come in the next two weeks, which should lead to a new round of meetings by top envoys to discuss its verification, a South Korean official said.
US President George W. Bush said late last month he had released US intelligence about suspected collusion between North Korea and Syria to put pressure on Pyongyang to come clean.
Pyongyang has yet to respond to the recent White House charges that North Korea was helping Syria build a reactor that could produce arms-grade plutonium.
US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said Washington remained concerned about North Korea’s proliferation of nuclear technology to Syria.
“This is part of the process, and we’ll have to wait and see what that brings,” Negroponte told reporters in Seoul, where he was visiting on a three-country Asia tour.
Kim’s trip came after the two countries held separate talks this week on Washington’s food aid offer to the North.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said earlier yesterday that the two sides “had in-depth and good negotiations.” It gave no details.
The US State Department has said the food delegation would discuss with Pyongyang how to guarantee that US food can be distributed to the North Koreans who need it most.
North Korea has in the past bristled at the strict monitoring required by international donors, who are concerned that supplies could be diverted to the privileged elite or military.
Washington has said it viewed humanitarian aid as a separate issue from the nuclear talks.
North Korea has relied on foreign aid to feed its 23 million people after its economy was devastated by natural disasters and mismanagement in the mid-1990s. As many as 2 million people are believed to have died from famine.
The food situation in the North has worsened this year after a devastating flood swept the country last summer and South Korea’s new conservative government stopped sending aid. The UN has warned that North Korea urgently needs outside aid to avert a worse humanitarian disaster.