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US Sends Top Envoy to North Korea to Try to Save Nuclear Deal

The United States is sending a senior diplomat to Pyongyang this week to try to salvage the troubled six-party accord, under which North Korea is to scrap its nuclear program. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department that Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, chief U.S. envoy to the nuclear talks, will also visit Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo.

The dispatch of Assistant Secretary Christopher Hill to the region underlines U.S. concern about the six-party deal, which appears to be crumbling amid North Korea moves to reverse disarmament steps.

North Korea has expelled international monitors from its partially-disabled Yongbyon reactor complex, and taken steps to reactivate the facility, in a dispute over verifying the declaration of its nuclear program it made in June.

North Korea alleges the United State reneged on a promise to remove it from its list of state sponsors of terrorism after the declaration, but U.S. officials say de-listing depends on submission by North Korea of an acceptable verification plan.

The State Department says Hill, who has been holding consultations on the nuclear issue on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, will arrive in Seoul late Tuesday and go on from there to Pyongyang, Beijing and Tokyo.

Deputy State Department Spokesman Robert Wood said Hill will try to ascertain why North Korea has moved to reverse implementation of the accord, under which Pyongyang is to get aid and diplomatic benefits from the other parties for scrapping its nuclear program, including weapons.

The secretive communist government is understood to be reluctant to accept intrusive verification, and some analysts say the terms sought by the United States are especially severe.

But spokesman Wood said all the parties to the talks, including North Korea, agreed in principle on the need for a verification plan in July. He said North Korea, which has already handed over thousands of documents on its program, is not being asked to submit to unreasonable inspection measures.

"We are talking about a standard verification package. This is not onerous," he said. "This is not unusual in terms of trying to verify activities that may have taken place. So the North cannot expect that after submitting over 19,000 pages that obviously we, the other parties to the framework, we would need to verify what they submitted. And so, Chris Hill will be going to the region to try to look for ways to encourage the North to live up to its obligations."

Wood declined to discuss what message Hill will be taking to Pyongyang and the other principals in the talks, but said he is obviously going to the region with some ideas about how to move the process forward.

At the same time, a senior U.S. diplomat discouraged the notion Hill was ready to propose softer inspection terms. He said the verification measures being sought for North Korea are not unlike those accepted by Libya when it gave up its weapons of mass destruction programs in 2003.

The U.S. official said Hill would to try to get a sense as to why North Korea's posture in recent weeks has become so difficult.

There have been suggestions Pyongyang may want to stall the process until the change of U.S. administrations. But the diplomat said Pyongyang has a very good offer in front of it, and should not assume it will get a better deal from the next U.S. president.