US Envoy Hopes to Make Up for Lost Time in N. Korean Nuclear Process

Christopher Hill, Washington's chief envoy to the North Korean nuclear negotiations, says steps toward ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs should be speeded up to compensate for lost time. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill says he expects North Korea to live up to a promise to start dismantling its nuclear programs within weeks, rather than months.

The North Koreans promised at six-nation talks in February to shut their main nuclear reactor in Yongbyon by mid-April. But millions of dollars due to be returned to Pyongyang as part of the deal were held up due to banking technicalities.

Now that the banking issue has been resolved, Hill is pressing the North Koreans to begin implementing their side of the deal immediately. He says a new round of six-party talks before the shutdown begins is neither likely nor necessary.

"Because the shutdown of the facilities is something we've already talked about a lot, and we don't want to have another meeting to talk about that. We all agree on what needs to happen," said Hill.

After months of agonizing delays, North Korea announced Saturday that resolution of the banking issues was in its final stages. It said it had invited inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear agency, to return the country to prepare the shutdown.

IAEA officials say their delegates will spend next week negotiating a set of procedures for shutting down the reactor, then seek approval for the plan at agency headquarters in Vienna.

A second visit by nuclear inspectors would then be scheduled quickly, for the purpose of carrying out the shutdown.

Hill was in Seoul Tuesday for talks with South Korean officials. Before departing for Tokyo, he said that he hoped to see "a considerably improved position" in the disarmament process "by the end of the calendar year."