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US Envoy Returning to North Korea for Nuclear Talks


A senior U.S. diplomat is returning to North Korea next week for talks on speeding up implementation of the six-party accord, under which Pyongyang is to scrap its nuclear program. The mission by the State Department's director of Korean affairs Sung Kim will focus on the disablement of North Korean nuclear facilities. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The accord, under which North Korea is to scrap its nuclear program for aid and diplomatic benefits, has slipped several months behind schedule.

The State Department says Sung Kim, a Korean-American diplomat who has had a key role in nuclear diplomacy, will pay a one-day visit to Pyongyang next Tuesday to discuss the permanent disablement of the Yongbyon reactor complex.

Yongbyon produced the plutonium for North Korea's small arsenal of nuclear weapons, one of which was tested in 2006.

Under the six-party accord, Yongbyon has been shut down - and was to have been permanently disabled by end of last year - in exchange for fuel oil shipments from the United States and other parties to the accord.

The disablement process has been slowed by technical problems concerning the removal of fuel rods from the reactor, and because North Korea has said fuel deliveries were behind schedule.

Briefing reporters, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said fuel shipments are in the process of being completed.

He said North Korea has performed in eight of 11 disablement areas, and that the United States would like to see the process speeded up:

"While we would like this to proceed and proceed more quickly, we're frankly into overtime on these things that were supposed to have been done by the end of last and the beginning of this year," he explained. "So, of course we would like to see these things done with some more alacrity. However, we do what to see them done correctly and completely, and want to see North Korea fulfill all of its requirements."

North Korea is also months overdue in producing a declaration of all its nuclear holdings and activities, a necessary prelude to the next phase of the deal bringing Pyongyang diplomatic gains and security assurances.

An official here said one issue Sung Kim will discuss next week in Pyongyang will be the demolition of the huge cooling tower for the Yongbyon reactor, which would be a highly visible symbol of North Korea's willingness to carry out its obligations.

U.S. diplomat Kim will first visit Seoul next week to meet South Korean officials involved in the process, and with his Chinese counterpart who will be there for a meeting of the energy and economic working group of the six-party talks.

The working group will hold sessions in both Seoul and the Panmunjom truce village on the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.

The six-party talks include the two Koreas, Japan, the United States, Russia and China, which chairs the process.