- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Top U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill said yesterday that he will push for “measurable, concrete progress” to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs when regional talks resume this weekend in Beijing after a break of more than a year.

Just over two months after Pyongyang stunned the world by conducting its first nuclear test, Mr. Hill said in a State Department briefing that China has offered the United States “unprecedented cooperation” in recent weeks in pressing the North to return to the stalled “six-party talks.”

Both China and the United States have talked directly with North Korean diplomats about reviving the talks, and both Beijing and Washington reject the idea that North Korea’s Oct. 9 nuclear test has given the isolated communist nation permanent status as a “nuclear power.”

“The Chinese have also been in direct contact with the North Koreans on several occasions, and they also have reason to believe that we will see some specific ideas for moving ahead,” said Mr. Hill, undersecretary of state of East Asian affairs.

Negotiators for the six countries — the United States, China, North and South Korea, Japan and Russia — are set to meet Sunday night in Beijing for the first time since Pyongyang’s nuclear test. Mr. Hill said he anticipated this round of talks would last at least a week and he hoped to be home by Christmas.

But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters Tuesday that a deadline on the talks was not firm and that the goal remains the same: complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

In a concession to Pyongyang, parallel U.S.-North Korea talks on U.S. financial sanctions against the North will begin at virtually the same time Sunday in Beijing. Pyongyang has harshly criticized the sanctions, which led to the freezing of millions of dollars in North Korean state accounts in a Chinese bank, and cited the sanctions as a reason to boycott the talks.

The financial talks will be kept separate from the six-party discussions, and a Treasury Department official will be the lead negotiator, Mr. Hill said.

He said his focus in Beijing will be to move beyond talking and to start implementing a joint accord reached in September 2005. That agreement committed the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to give up its military nuclear programs in exchange for economic aid and security guarantees.

Mr. Hill acknowledged that the North’s nuclear test, which resulted in new U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang, had “done damage” to the six-party process, but said the United States and its allies were still insistent that the North honor the September 2005 statement in full.

“We need a sign that we have moved off the pages of the September agreement and on to the ground of the Korean Peninsula,” he said.

Song Min-soon, South Korea’s new foreign minister, also pressed the North to go beyond talking in the new round.

“I hope that the North will heed the importance of this opportunity and act in a way that will lead to visible steps,” Mr. Song told reporters in Seoul.

Mr. Hill said he planned to stop in Japan and perhaps South Korea on his way to Beijing for the weekend talks.

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