WASHINGTON, August 14 – Washington on Wednesday sent an envoy to Beijing and US and South Korean negotiators prepared to meet in New York to help break a deadlock over a mechanism to verify North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.,
Sung Kim, the State Department’s top Korea expert, "is going to consult with the Chinese regarding efforts to secure a strong verification regime and additional progress in the six party talks," a department official told AFP.
"He is expected to conclude his meeting in Beijing over the weekend," said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
This is the second trip by Sung Kim to Beijing in two weeks and is aimed at breaking an impasse with North Korea over a verification protocol that Washington wants the hardline communist state to adopt before it is removed from a US terrorism blacklist.
North Korea has reportedly rejected parts of US-proposed protocol aimed at examining nuclear programs declared by Pyongyang, as part of a six-nation accord aimed at ending its nuclear weapons drive in return for diplomatic and security guarantees and energy aid.
It was not clear whether Sung Kim would also meet with North Korean officials as he did during the last trip to the Chinese capital.
The South Korean foreign ministry said Thursday its chief nuclear negotiator Kim Sook and US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill would meet on Friday in New York to discuss the early establishment of a verification system.
"I will discuss with Assistant Secretary Hill negotiations with the North on how to draw up a verification mechanism," South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted Kim as saying on his departure.
"I’m also planning to discuss wrapping up the second stage (of nuclear disarmament)."
China is chair of the six-nation talks involving also the United States, the two Koreas, Japan and Russia.
As part of a six-nation accord, Pyongyang has already shut down its main nuclear reactor and is disabling it, ahead of dismantlement and surrendering of its nuclear weapons.
But the denuclearization process is stuck over disagreement on the verification measures, which Washington says should be adopted before it removes North Korea from its State Sponsors of Terrorism blacklist.
The Bush administration reportedly provided North Korea with a four-page draft verification protocol at the latest round of six-way talks in Beijing last month.
Among other requirements, it called for full access by inspectors to all North Korean nuclear sites, Asian diplomats said.
While Pyongyang agreed to general principles for verifying the nuclear declaration, including visits to facilities, review of documents, and interviews with technical personnel, there is no agreement yet on the extent to which access can be provided to international inspectors, the diplomats said.
The Bush administration also wants the protocol to be rigorous, covering Pyongyang’s plutonium program, from which it manufactured bombs, one of which was test fired in 2006, as well as its sensitive uranium enrichment program and its proliferation activities.
In a related development, Washington hailed Wednesday an agreement reached between North Korea and Japan over terms for a probe into Pyongyang’s abduction of Japanese nationals that could pave the way for Tokyo to lift some sanctions on its neighbour.
"We welcome the reports that an agreement was reached," the State Department official said.
"We understand that Japan and North Korea agreed to the basic outline of a resolution to the abduction issue and to steps for eventual removal of some Japanese sanctions on the DPRK (North Korea)," the official said.
Japan, a key US ally, had wanted a resolution of the abduction issue before North Korea could be removed from the US terror blacklist.
After his meeting with Hill, South Korean negotiator Kim is scheduled to meet Japan’s chief delegate to the six-party talks, Akitaka Saiki, in Tokyo Tuesday, the South Korean foreign ministry also said.
Kim will likely be briefed on the outcome of the recent working-level talks to normalise diplomatic ties between North Korea and Japan.