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US, N Korean Nuclear Envoys Set Singapore Meeting Tuesday

Senior U.S. and North Korean negotiators are to meet in Singapore Tuesday to try to advance stalled talks on ending Pyongyang's nuclear program. A promised North Korean declaration of its nuclear activities is more than three months overdue. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here say the declaration, which had been due at the end of last year, will be the main issue at the Singapore meeting.

But they're downplaying expectations that the meeting between top U.S. nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill and his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye-Gwan will yield a final agreement on the declaration issue.

North Korea agreed more than a year ago to give up its nuclear program including its small weapons arsenal in exchange for aid and diplomatic benefits from other participants in the Chinese-sponsored six-party nuclear talks.

North Korea has shut down its main nuclear complex at Yongbyon and has nearly completed the permanent disablement of the facility under the accord.

But the declaration, under which Pyongyang is to reveal all its nuclear activities, including any cooperation with other countries, has emerged as a major stumbling block.

In a talk with reporters, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said U.S. envoy Hill believes some progress has been made on the declaration but that it is too early to say if a breakthrough is near.

"Until there's actually a full and complete declaration, it doesn't really matter," he said. "And I can't handicap for you whether we are any closer, lots closer, a quarter-wink-and-half a nudge closer to that point than not. I think Chris [Hill] has made it pretty clear that until we get to the actual point of having a full and complete declaration, it's not particularly useful or productive to try and assert whether we're half a degree or more in one direction or the other."

The Bush administration has said the declaration should include an accounting of a uranium enrichment project it believes North Korea conducted in addition to its plutonium-based bomb program.

In recent statements, Pyongyang has flatly denied having engaged in uranium enrichment or in any nuclear proliferation activity.

North Korea has lately stepped up rhetorical attacks on the new South Korean government of President Lee Myung-Bak, who took office in February committed to taking a tougher line with Pyongyang than his predecessor.

Spokesman Casey said recent North Korean threats against the South have not been helpful, but he said he cannot say the sharp language has had a significant impact on the nuclear talks.

An official here said any agreement on a declaration would likely be announced by China, the official host of the talks. The other participants are the United States, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas.