President Bush has sent a personal letter to North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il urging him to honestly declare all his nuclear programs and materials. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing the rare letter follows signs that North Korea may fail to meet an agreed end-of-the-year deadline for the declaration.
North Korea's official KCNA news agency first reported that President Bush sent the letter to Kim Jong Il.
The White House later confirmed the letter had been delivered by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, who was in North Korea earlier this week to take part in an inspection at Pyongyang's Yongbyon nuclear complex.
After arriving in Beijing for talks with the Chinese, Hill confirmed to reporters he delivered the president's letter to North Korea's Foreign Minister. He said the letter urged North Korea to move forward with its denuclearization and comply with its agreement to fully declare its nuclear programs by the end of the year.
"The letter referred to the fact of what we're doing in the six-party process and the need to complete the task and especially to get on with completing the phase two task which include the complete and correct declaration," Hill explained.
Hill gave no further details on the president's letter and instead referred reporters to the White House, where spokeswoman Dana Perino said it urged Pyongyang to come forward with a full and complete declaration of its nuclear program.
Hill said he also gave letters about the issue to the four other parties in the six-nation talks, South Korea, Russia, China and Japan.
"We felt we are in a crucial moment and it was important to reach out to all the parties and that is what the president did," he said.
The rare letter from President Bush to North Korea's reclusive leader comes as the six-nation talks appear to have hit a snag over gaps in what North Korea is prepared to declare and what Washington expects to see.
A key problem is Washington's long-standing accusation of a secret North Korea uranium-enrichment program in addition to its publicly acknowledged plutonium program.
The dispute appears to have delayed an expected December meeting of the six nations' negotiators. Hill said the next meeting would not likely happen until after the new year.
Nonetheless, Hill expressed optimism that North Korea could still meet the deadline for the nuclear declaration. He said there would likely be some "back and forth" before the draft was finished.
South Korea's Foreign Ministry Thursday urged flexibility if North Korea is unable to meet the December 31 deadline for the declaration.
North Korea agreed in February to give up its nuclear programs in return for much needed fuel, aid, and diplomatic incentives.