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US Aide To Brief Allies On Potential Breakthrough On North Korea January 20, 2007

Posted by notapundit in US News, World News.
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TOKYO (AP)–The U.S.’s top envoy on North Korea arrived in Tokyo on Saturday to brief allies on a potential breakthrough in the standoff over the communist country’s nuclear weapons program when wider arms control talks reconvene.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill’s stop in Japan was part of a regional tour that included South Korea as he discusses the outcome of a meeting in Germany earlier this week between him and North Korea’s main nuclear negotiator, Kim Kye Gwan.

Hill described the four-day talks that concluded Thursday in Berlin as “very useful” and “substantive.”

“We certainly agreed that we would go forward with the six-party talks. We agreed on the need to get going on the next round,” Hill said Saturday after arriving in Tokyo where he was expected to meet his Japanese counterpart, Kenichiro Sasae.

After the Berlin talks, North Korea said it reached an unspecified agreement with the U.S., and Hill said the meeting laid the foundations for progress when the so-called six-nation talks reconvene.

The negotiations are aimed at persuading the isolated communist regime into giving up its nuclear ambitions in exchange for aid, and include North Korea, the U.S., Japan, South Korea, China and Russia. Negotiations have taken on added urgency since North Korea rattled the region by testing its first nuclear bomb in October.

The last six-way round, held in Beijing in December, ended without any breakthroughs.

Hill said that he hoped the next round could begin later this month or in early February. The U.S. official said he will travel to Beijing after Tokyo to discuss the timing of the meeting with the Chinese hosts. In South Korea, he said he was aiming for a meeting before the Lunar New Year holiday, which falls on Feb. 18 this year.

“We would like to get going as soon as possible,” Hill said.

North Korea offered a rare, upbeat assessment of the Germany meetings.

“We paid attention to the direct dialogue held by the (North) and the U.S. in a bid to settle knotty problems in resolving the nuclear issue,” the North’s ministry said in a statement released by the country’s official Korean Central News Agency.

The U.S. State Department said the meetings allowed Hill to gain better sense of where North Korea currently stands on the future of its nuclear weapons program, but added that no issues were resolved.

The countries had been seeking to outline how to implement a September 2005 agreement where the North pledged to disarm in exchange for aid and security guarantees.

The key stumbling block was the Washington’s blacklisting of a Macau bank that held North Korean accounts. Washington and Pyongyang have agreed to discuss the financial issue.

Hill said that financial negotiations aimed at addressing this issue were also being planned between the U.S. Treasury Department and its North Korean counterpart. In Berlin, both sides agreed to hold this talks soon, he said.

Those discussions haven’t yet been scheduled, but they could convene as early as next week, Hill said.

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