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US Envoy Heads Home After Nuclear Talks in Pyongyang

A senior U.S. diplomat is en route back to Washington after talks with North Korean officials on the stalled six-party nuclear accord. North Korea has agreed to accelerate compliance with the disarmament deal in return for speeded-up deliveries of energy aid. VOA'S David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The visit by the State Department's Korean affairs director, Sung Kim, focused on the disablement of North Korea's Yongbyon reactor complex, a process the communist state has now promised to accelerate in return for faster shipments of heavy fuel oil.

The Yongbyon reactor, which produced the plutonium for North Korea's small nuclear weapons arsenal, was to have been permanently disabled by the end of last year.

But the process has lagged, amid North Korean charges that the other parties to the accord are behind schedule on aid deliveries.

A working group of the six parties, North and South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan, discussed the issue Tuesday and Wednesday in meetings in Seoul and the Panmunjom truce village at the Korean demilitarized zone.

In a talk with reporters, State Department Acting Spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos confirmed that the meeting yielded an agreement under which both disablement steps, and fuel deliveries to North Korea, are to be speeded up.

"The meetings were good and substantive and helped the parties make further progress in the six-party process. In line with the principle of action for action, the parties agreed to accelerate the pace of energy assistance to North Korea in exchange for the DPRK agreeing to increase the pace of meeting its nuclear disablement obligations," he said.

North Korea complains it has completed 80 percent of the disablement work at Yongbyon but received only 40 percent of the promised energy aid of one million tons of heavy fuel oil.

Spokesman Gallegos said U.S. diplomat Kim sat in briefly on the working group talks before going on to Pyongyang to continue the dialogue on disablement.

In comments Thursday in Seoul, the American diplomat said he had a very detailed and substantive discussion in North Korea on issues related to disablement, and that the fuel supply question was one of the topics.

Speaking after a meeting with South Korean nuclear negotiator Hwang Joon-kook, Kim said his Pyongyang mission was not intended to make agreements but rather to "explore various options" for the remaining disablement steps.

U.S. officials had said in advance of the trip that one issue Kim wanted to discuss was the demolition of the cooling tower of the Yongbyon reactor.

Kim is expected to brief the chief U.S. delegate to the six-party talks, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, soon after his return to Washington Friday.