Monday, January 22, 2007

BEIJING — Christopher R. Hill, the top American envoy for eliminating North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, said yesterday that the resumption of six-party talks in Beijing should not be affected by U.S. concerns over China’s test of an anti-satellite missile.

“My government’s position on that is pretty clear,” Mr. Hill, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told reporters. “We’ve certainly conveyed [concern] to the Chinese, but I would say the six-party talks are on a different track.”

Mr. Hill acknowledged having “private discussions” Sunday night with his Chinese counterpart, Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei, about the Jan. 11 test in which China shot down an obsolete satellite with a ballistic missile. He referred further questions to other State Department officials and the Pentagon, saying, “I don’t want to be the spokesman on it today.”

The American diplomat was in Beijing to inform the Chinese of progress made in Berlin last week during three days of discussions with Kim Kye-gwan, the head of the North Korean delegation to the six-party talks. He already had briefed counterparts in Seoul and Tokyo.

Mr. Kim appears to have shown greater willingness to treat U.S. financial sanctions and North Korean nuclear disarmament as separate issues, clearing the way for a resumption of nuclear negotiations that broke down at the end of December.

Mr. Hill said no venue had been set for discussion of the financial issue, “although that will not be a problem.” The State Department will have to “fine-tune the date for the talks” with the Treasury Department, but he predicted they would take place “very soon, probably at the same time or even before the six-party talks.”

“We are down to a question of logistics now,” he said, adding that his latest talks had been held in Berlin only because of a “coincidence of schedules.”

Mr. Hill offered few details about what he called “lengthy discussions” with Mr. Wu, but said the two had agreed on the need to restart the six-party process at an early date.

“We felt we should have done more in the December round, and we want to get going on implementing the September Statement,” he said. “We have some ideas for doing that and have had some good discussions all around about how to do it.”

In September 2005, negotiators struck a deal in which North Korea would abandon its nuclear weapons program in exchange for security guarantees and economic aid. Subsequent six-party talks stalled after the Treasury Department moved to have a North Korean bank account frozen in Macau and were further complicated when Pyongyang detonated a nuclear device in October.

“I don’t want to go into the specifics, but I do believe we have a basis for making progress in the six-party talks,” Mr. Hill said. “People ask if I’m optimistic. I’d rather not make a bet on the game I’m playing in, but I think based on all the consultations we’ve had in the last week we have a basis for getting together as soon as possible.”

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