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Most analysts expect the first phase — the shutdown of the North”s Yongbyon reactor — to be much easier than the second phase, in which the North is obliged to disclose all its nuclear programs. The disclosure presumably would clear up doubts over whether North Korea, in addition to the plutonium-based program at Yongbyon, is also secretly enriching uranium.

The implementation of the Feb. 13 multilateral denuclearization agreement has been held up by a failure to resolve a dispute over North Korean funds held in a Macau Bank.

Mr. Hill“s visit was praised by South Korea”s chief nuclear negotiator, Chun Yung-woo, who said it would “add momentum.” Mr. Chun expected six-party nuclear talks to reconvene in early July, followed by a meeting of six-party foreign ministers “at an appropriate time.”

The trip by the U.S. negotiator to meet his North Korean counterpart in Pyongyang, outside the six-party talks venue, may indicate an increasing rapport between the two key men in a process in which a lack of bilateral trust has been cited as a major obstacle.

“My purpose in going was to respond to my six-party talks colleague Kim Kye-gwan’s request that I come for discussions,” Mr. Hill said.

Mr. Hill makes regular tours of the region to discuss progress — or lack thereof — in the six-party nuclear talks in affected capitals, but this was his first trip to Pyongyang. The U.S. side turned down a similar invitation from Pyongyang last year.

The last Pyongyang visit by a senior U.S. official was by Mr. Hill“s predecessor, James Kelly, in 2002. Then, Mr. Kelly”s team accused the North of a secret uranium-based nuclear program, triggering a crisis that culminated in Pyongyang”s detonation of a nuclear device last October.

In a reversal of an earlier American position not to negotiate with North Korea outside multilateral formats, Mr. Hill met Mr. Kim in Berlin in January. Pundits ascribe the breakthrough six-party Feb. 13 agreement to the bilateral, closed-door Berlin meeting.

c This article is based in part on wire service reports.