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US Nuclear Talks Envoy Begins Shuttle Diplomacy Visit to Asia

The top U.S. envoy to multi-national talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programs has arrived in Asia in an effort to revive the talks. Even though he is expected to be in Beijing at about the same time as North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, he says there are no plans for the two to meet.

Arriving at an airport in Seoul, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill dismissed speculation of a connection between his visit to China and that of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

"The trip that Chairman Kim Jong Il took to China was a surprise to all of us, and it is a complete coincidence that I am in the area at the same time," he said.

Hill met with Japanese officials and is scheduled to depart Thursday for Beijing, after talking to senior South Korean officials.

South Korean intelligence sources say Kim Jong Il arrived Tuesday in China. South Korean media report he is expected to arrive in Beijing after a short stop in Shanghai.

The United States, China, South Korea, Japan, and Russia have been trying to persuade North Korea for three years to fulfill its international obligations not to build nuclear weapons.

Last September, North Korea agreed in principle to dismantle its nuclear capabilities in exchange for economic and political incentives.

Shortly after that agreement, Pyongyang announced it would take no steps toward denuclearization until the United States provided it with a lightwater nuclear reactor. The United States and South Korea say the North must first dismantle its existing nuclear facilities under international supervision.

In recent weeks, North Korea has also said it would boycott the six-party talks unless the United States dropped economic sanctions against the communist country. U.S. officials say they have substantial evidence Pyongyang has been issuing counterfeit U.S. dollars on a large scale.

Hill says Washington does not link the counterfeiting issue with the nuclear talks.

"It is not a six-party matter, it is a law enforcement matter," he explained. "And I am not a law enforcement official."

Hill says he hopes China will use its leverage as North Korea's main ally to help set a date for more six-party talks as soon as possible.