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US Envoy: N. Korea Must Return to Six Party Talks

The chief American envoy to North Korea nuclear talks says Pyongyang needs to decide to return to the bargaining table, as there will be no new enticements.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told reporters in Seoul his talks with Chinese leaders Thursday produced "no breakthroughs" in getting North Korea back to the bargaining table to discuss eliminating its nuclear weapons capabilities.

The three-year-old negotiations have been stalled since the United States, China, Russia, Japan, South Korea and North Korea met in September.

That round of talks produced an agreement in principle for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear programs in exchange for financial and energy assistance, as well as political and diplomatic benefits.

Hill says the agreement stands as is.

"So it's not up to us [United States] to create some new incentive structures for them [North Korea] to come and implement the September agreement," said Hill. "The incentive structures are already in the September agreement."

Just one day after reaching that agreement, North Korea announced a new condition: the United States must provide it with a modern nuclear reactor for civilian energy production. That was immediately ruled and was seen by Washington and its partners as another attempt by Pyongyang to stall.

Currently, North Korea - known formally as the DPRK - is refusing to return to the six-nation talks on implementing the September agreement until the U.S. lifts sanctions on North Korean companies suspected of money laundering and counterfeiting.

Hill says the North's focus on the sanctions, which mainly target about $24 million in North Korea assets, is a distraction from the main issue.

"I'm not sure this is about $24 million. I'm not sure this is about the U.S. economic measures," continued Hill. "I think this about a country - the DPRK - that can't make up its mind."

U.S. officials say the sanctions are a matter of law enforcement and are completely separate from the nuclear diplomacy.

Before departing Seoul Friday, Hill repeated Washington's willingness to strive for a permanent peace with North Korea, in the context of the September agreement.

"One of the elements there is that the parties would agree to work on a peace mechanism in an appropriate forum with the appropriate players," he said. "So, of course we'd be willing to implement that element as well."

There is no peace treaty ending the 1950s Korean War. Fighting was halted by an armistice, signed in 1953, and meant to be temporary.