State Department officials say a senior U.S. envoy is in Pyongyang, discussing ideas aimed at salvaging the troubled accord under which North Korea would scrap its nuclear program. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Christopher Hill is having a second day of talks in the North Korean capital on Thursday before going on to Seoul. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.
A senior official here says Hill is not making substantive concessions to North Korea on the nuclear deal, but that he is prepared to discuss changes in how the agreement is "choreographed" in an effort to prevent a breakdown of the disarmament process.
Last year, North Korea agreed to scrap its nuclear program - including weapons - in return for energy aid and diplomatic benefits from the five other parties in the negotiations -- the United States, South Korea, Japan, Russia and China.
However, Pyongyang in recent weeks has reversed the process of dismantling its nuclear facilities. It says Washington reneged on a commitment to remove it from its list of state sponsors of terrorism after North Korea made a declaration of its nuclear holdings in June.
The Bush administration says de-listing North Korea was dependent on it providing the other parties with a plan to verify the declaration.
The senior official who spoke to reporters here in Washington said Hill is expected to propose that North Korea be removed from the terrorism list "provisionally," if it gave a verification plan to China, the chair of the six-party talks and North Korea's closest ally.
The official said the United States would expect to be informed of the contents of the verification plan, and described the idea as a change of sequencing, but not substance.
State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack rejected published suggestions that the United States is backing down on matters of substance in order to break the impasse.
"I saw this in a story that he [Hill] was bringing quote 'new proposals'. And inasmuch as that refers to any change in the substance, that would be incorrect," said Sean McCormack. "He, of course, will talk about how the process can be moved forward, and in the sort of choreography of that process. But he wasn't bringing with him any new substance in terms of proposals."
The State Department said Assistant Secretary Hill, the chief U.S. delegate to the six-party talks, met his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye Kwan on Wednesday and that he plans to hold additional meetings in Pyongyang on Thursday before returning to South Korea.
Hill is expected to brief Japanese and Russian diplomats on his Pyongyang discussions in either Seoul or Beijing, and then stop in Tokyo before heading back to Washington on Saturday.
The difficulties in the disarmament process came amid reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il suffered a stroke in August, possibly disrupting the decision-making process in Pyongyang.
There have also been suggestions that North Korea may want to stall the nuclear accord until the change in U.S. administrations in January, although officials in Washington say Pyongyang should not assume it will get a better deal from the next U.S. President.