The commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific says he is cautiously optimistic about a developing international agreement designed to end North Korea's nuclear weapons program. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Admiral Timothy Keating says progress is being made in talks with North Korea. In a VOA interview, the admiral said he is in close touch with negotiators from the U.S. State Department, and their reports give him reason to be optimistic.

"A year ago when I came to Pacific Command, I would have been less optimistic than I am today. There is work to be done for sure. We have to be very careful of promises made but not necessarily with the intention to keep, on the part of the North Koreans. But I think there is reason for cautious optimism," he said.

Admiral Keating's comments came as two senior U.S. officials were heading to Asia for talks on North Korea's nuclear program. State Department Korean Affairs director Sung Kim was on his way to Pyongyang, and the department's deputy secretary, John Negroponte, was heading to Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo. The U.S. officials, and Asian diplomats, are pressing North Korea to make a formal declaration revealing all aspects of its nuclear program. The country had promised to make the declaration by the end of last year.

While Admiral Keating is pleased with the progress, and satisfied with plans for verification procedures, he says the wording of any North Korean declaration will be very important. "There are parts of the North Korean declaration that as yet are not timed by North Korea, is my understanding. So, we'll have to be very careful of the language used in their self-declaration. But, again, I'm cautiously optimistic," he said.

North Korea conducted a nuclear test a year and a half ago, prompting a new round of international efforts aimed at convincing its leaders to abandon their nuclear weapons program. There was some progress last year, with the shut down of a North Korean nuclear plant. But further progress has been stalled by North Korea's failure to issue the declaration.

Admiral Keating heads U.S. Pacific Command, based in Hawaii, with responsibility for all U.S. military activity in Asia, and in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Part of his responsibility is to respond to any threat from North Korea.