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Wednesday, June 20, 2007
N. Korea talks could restart next month: Hill
While noting the difficulties still lying ahead, U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill said Tuesday in Tokyo that he expects multilateral talks aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear program to resume as early as next month.
"We look forward to convening a talk at a very early date, probably in July," the U.S. assistant secretary of state said after meeting with Japanese officials, adding he wants to see the meeting take place "sooner rather than later."
But Hill and his Japanese counterpart, Kenichiro Sasae, told reporters they believe there still is "a long way to go" before North Korea abandons its nuclear ambitions as agreed in February at the six-party talks.
The two said they agreed that Japan and the United States should continue cooperating closely in urging Pyongyang to denuclearize.
"(We) are very aware of the fact that this is a step-by-step process, with many steps to come," Hill said. Pyongyang agreed to abandon its nuclear program in exchange for access to frozen funds at a Macau bank. The funds were frozen after the U.S. blacklisted the bank for allegedly assisting North Korea in its illicit activities.
Hill was in Tokyo to report on recent steps to restart talks with Pyongyang, such as unfreezing the funds, which were finally transferred to North Korean accounts at a Russian bank.
U.S., China and Macau authorities had earlier agreed to the release of the money, but the process hit a snag when no international bank proved willing to accept the tainted North Korean funds.
However, Hill noted that the successful transfer of the funds was just the latest step on a long road.
"(North Korea) also has considerable obligations, including the obligation to disable the nuclear facility. So there's a lot of work there," Hill said, urging Pyongyang to take key steps toward denuclearization.
Sasae said he and Hill also agreed to continue cooperating to resolve issues related to the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents, a top priority for the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Hill said the abduction issue is very important "not only to the Japanese people, but also to the U.S. government and U.S. people."
Disarm first, talk later
Resuming the six-party talks on North Korea in July will depend on what steps Pyongyang takes to disarm, Foreign Minister Taro Aso said Tuesday.
"We will have to see to what extent it will faithfully implement the initial steps," Aso told reporters when asked about the prospect of restarting the talks next month.
Aso said a move by the International Atomic Energy Agency to send officials to North Korea next week has "raised the chances" of carrying on with the denuclearization steps.
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