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North Korea Says US Envoy Visit 'Productive'

The North Korean government has issued a positive assessment of a senior U.S. envoy's visit to the capital, Pyongyang. United Nations nuclear inspectors are expected to arrive in North Korea on Tuesday to plan for the imminent shutdown of the North's main nuclear reactor, a crucial first step toward the goal of Pyongyang' full nuclear disarmament. VOA's Kurt Achin reports from Seoul.

North Korea gave an upbeat report card to this week's unannounced visit to Pyongyang by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill.

A North Korean statement called talks between Hill and the North's Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Kwan "comprehensive and productive." The two are their country's chief delegates to multinational talks aimed at ending the North's nuclear weapons programs. Those talks also involve China, South Korea, Russia and Japan.

Hill briefed Japanese officials in Tokyo Saturday and said the North is likely to shut down its main nuclear facility in Yongbyon within three weeks. That the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, will send a delegation to the North on Tuesday is further good news, said Hill.

"In order to have the six party meeting, we have to make sure that we move very quickly on the February undertakings. So we're pleased the IAEA are heading in on Tuesday, and we hope really to pick up the pace," he said.

The shutdown is the first phase in a broader agreement reached at the six-nation talks in February in Beijing.

Pyongyang refused to meet a mid-April deadline for the shutdown, citing a dispute over $25 million of its funds frozen at a Macau bank by a U.S. investigation.

Most of those funds have since been transferred to a bank in Russia. Russian media quote officials, as saying the final transfer to a North Korean account will take place on Monday. North Korean official media quote a Pyongyang foreign ministry spokesman saying the Yongbyon shutdown will proceed once the transfer is complete.

The second phase of the February agreement calls for North Korea to make a full declaration of all of its nuclear capabilities, as a first step toward disabling them. Hill says he made clear during his Pyongyang visit the declaration must address U.S. concerns over a uranium-based program the North has never publicly admitted.

"We of course did discuss the need to have a comprehensive list of all nuclear programs, and I would just say that all means all," he said.

Hill is expected to return to Asia for more six party talks next month, once the Yongbyon shutdown is complete, and once China, the host, confirms a date for the meetings.