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US Envoy Says North Korea Will 'Promptly' Shut Down Nuclear Facility

Washington's chief negotiator in efforts to end North Korea's nuclear weapons programs is briefing diplomats in South Korea after an unannounced visit to Pyongyang. He says leaders there have reassured him they want to follow through on their promises to start disabling those programs. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said Friday in Seoul that his unannounced visit to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, went well.

"The talks were very detailed, very substantive, and … very useful and positive," he said.

Hill met with North Korean Vice Minister Kim Kye Kwan. Both senior diplomats head their respective country's delegation at six-nation talks aimed at ending the North's nuclear weapons programs. The talks also involve China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea.

In a joint press conference with South Korean delegation head Chun Yung-woo, Hill said North Korea - which he calls by its official title, the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea or DPRK - is ready to fulfill an overdue promise to shut down its main nuclear reactor in Yongbyon.

"The DPRK indicated they are prepared promptly to shut down the Yongbyon facility," he said. "They also said they are prepared to disable the Yongbyon facility... and some of what I did with [Kim Kye Kwan] was to discuss some of the details of how that might proceed."

The Yongbyon shutdown is the first phase of an agreement the six nations struck in February in Beijing. It was due to be completed by mid-April, but Pyongyang refused to take action due to a banking dispute over some of its money frozen by a U.S. investigation.

The funds were transferred to a Russian bank this week on their way to Pyongyang. North Korea has invited United Nations nuclear inspectors to visit to discuss the shutdown, and is expected to confirm a date for their visit. U.N. officials say the visit may take place as soon as next week.

South Korea's Chun Yung-woo says more six party meetings are likely to get underway soon.

Chun says the North has reacted favorably to the idea of resuming the six-party negotiations. He says a head of delegation meeting will probably take place in July, and a minister-level meeting would follow at an appropriate point after that.

Assistant Secretary Hill goes to Japan Saturday to brief officials there on the Pyongyang visit, before returning to Washington. Hill's trip to North Korea was his first, and marks a new stage in his long-running diplomatic shuttle between the six parties to talks aimed at defusing East Asia's largest nuclear threat.