The chief U.S. envoy charged with negotiating an end to North Korea's nuclear weapons programs says multinational talks to that end will probably resume next month. He denied reports, however, that he had reached "an agreement" in bilateral talks with North Korean officials this week. VOA's Kurt Achin spoke to Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill as he arrived in South Korea from Berlin, where he held several days of meetings with his North Korean counterpart.
North Korean media said Friday that U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill and senior North Korean negotiator Kim Kye Kwan had reached "an agreement" in Berlin.
The two envoys met three times in the last three days in the German capital, to discuss ways to restart stalled six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons capabilities.
China, Russia, South Korea and Japan are the other parties to the process, which has failed for three years to persuade the North to trade nuclear disarmament for financial aid and diplomatic incentives.
Stepping off a plane from Berlin at South Korea's Incheon Airport Friday, Hill downplayed the North Korean claim about agreement in Berlin.
"I'm sorry, I'm not really sure what he's referring to. We had some very useful discussions," he said.
Still, Hill says the six-party process is likely to get underway before a major Asian holiday weekend next month, which suggests some meeting of the minds.
The most recent session of the six-party talks was held in December in Beijing. But North Korea says there will be no progress on the nuclear issue until Washington lifts financial sanctions it has imposed on Pyongyang's financial interests. Washington says these are law enforcement measures aimed at protecting the U.S. from counterfeiting and money laundering.
The Berlin talks are thought to have dealt with the sanctions dispute, and also such details as timing: which party will take the first steps to start the North's denuclearization process.
Whatever agreement might have been reached on incremental steps like these, Hill made it clear Friday that the basic question of the North's nuclear program was not the subject of the Berlin talks.
"The negotiations for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula take place in the six-party talks," he said.
Bilateral talks on the sanctions issue have been going on between U.S. and North Korean financial authorities, in parallel with the Beijing talks, and there have been reports that the U.S. Treasury Department is ready to lift at least part of the sanctions. Hill says those talks are expected to resume next week in New York.
North Korea and the other five parties to the talks signed an agreement in September 2005: Pyongyang promised to end its nuclear programs in return for security guarantees and economic and energy aid. Despite that pledge, Pyongyang tested a nuclear weapon last October, and says it will continue to augment its nuclear arsenal.
Hill said Friday if the North is willing to take action on denuclearization, the U.S. and its partners could take steps toward other goals outlined in the September declaration - including normal diplomatic relations between North Korea and the United States.
The U.S. diplomat was due to vist Tokyo and Beijing after meeting with South Korean officials Friday.