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US Nuclear Envoy Says N. Korea Taking 'Positive' Steps to Address Uranium Concerns


Washington's chief negotiator on the North Korean nuclear issue says the multinational talks are not at a stalemate. He says, despite its failure to produce a promised description of its nuclear activities, Pyongyang wants to clarify issues of concern. Hill also says North Korea's chief negotiator told him Pyongyang is not sharing nuclear technology with other countries. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill says Pyongyang continues to insist it has not engaged in uranium enrichment activities. Hill spoke Wednesday with reporters in Seoul, a day after his meeting in Beijing with North Korean counterpart Kim Kye Kwan.

Experts say a disagreement over whether North Korea pursued a secret uranium enrichment program is the main reason Pyongyang has failed to produce a complete nuclear declaration it promised to deliver by the end of last year. North Korea has never publicly admitted the program, while Washington says it has abundant evidence to show it existed.

Still, Hill described Kim Kye Kwan's attempts to address the issue as "positive."

"They have purchased some equipment and have been trying to show to us that this equipment is not being used for uranium enrichment, on the theory that, if they can show that the equipment is not being used for uranium enrichment, therefore we do not have a uranium enrichment problem," explained Hill.

He said Kim also assured him North Korea is not involved in nuclear proliferation. "He wanted to make very clear that they are not at present having any nuclear cooperation with any other country, and they will not in the future," added Hill.

North Korea has taken significant steps toward stopping and disabling its means of plutonium production under the terms of a deal reached early last year. The overdue declaration of its nuclear pursuits would wrap up the second phase of a broader arrangement. That deal would end the North's nuclear arsenal altogether in exchange for diplomatic and financial incentives.

Hill repeated Wednesday that the U.S. still expects a complete declaration to be submitted, saying Washington cannot "pretend" to ignore North Korean nuclear activities it knows took place.

He also offered Pyongyang some reassurance that the U.S. and its regional partners will eventually be satisfied with the answers North Korea provides.

"From the DPRK's point of view, they are always concerned, when they tell us something, that what they tell us will be followed by additional questions," said Hill, "and what I want to assure them is that, yes, there will be additional questions, but not an infinite number of questions."

Separately, South Korean officials have struck an agreement to preserve the Unification Ministry, Seoul's main policy body for dealing with the North. President-elect Lee Myung-bak, due to be sworn in Monday, initially drew criticism by announcing he would downsize the ministry into a department of the South Korean Foreign Ministry.

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