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US Chief Negotiator Optimistic After Meetings With North Korea

The head U.S. negotiator to six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear programs has expressed optimism after a first day of meetings with North Korean officials in Beijing. As Daniel Schearf reports from the Chinese capital, the talks are focused on a timetable for dismantling North Korea's nuclear programs.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, told reporters Tuesday evening the U.S. and North Korea are "in the same ballpark" on a timetable for Pyongyang to declare and disable all its nuclear facilities.

Hill has said he would like to see North Korea declare all its nuclear materials in a matter of months and disable its facilities by the end of the year. But, he says he is flexible on whether the declaration or disablement starts first.

"You know, I don't like to get in a situation where if we don't nail down the declaration then we can't start any disablement," said Hill. "So, I want to have a little flexibility on that."

Hill was speaking after an afternoon of meetings with his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye Kwan ahead of six-nation talks that begin Wednesday.

Delegates from North Korea, the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia will discuss the next steps in ending Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programs - identifying all of its nuclear facilities and dismantling them.

The declaration of nuclear facilities is likely to prove tricky, as the U.S. has accused North Korea of having a secret uranium enrichment program that the North has never publicly acknowledged.

Hill says the uranium issue will have to be discussed as part of the declaration.

"It has to be dealt with," he added. "You know, when you have a declaration it can't be a partial declaration. Yeah, it has to be dealt with and we'll have a conversation about that."

Pyongyang promised in February to dismantle all its nuclear programs in return for aid, security guarantees, and normalized relations with the U.S. and Japan. The first step of shutting down its nuclear reactor was delayed over a financial dispute that was only recently resolved.

International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors have confirmed that North Korea has shut down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, giving new momentum to the talks.

Once the facilities are dismantled, foreign ministers from all six nations will meet for the first time. Hill says that this week the delegates will discuss possible dates for that historic meeting.