United States envoy expected in Beijing to push forward process of disabling North Korea’s nuclear program


BEIJING — U.S. nuclear envoy Christopher Hill was set to arrive in Beijing on Tuesday for talks on implementing an agreement to disable North Korea’s nuclear program.

His visit coincided with a meeting in the Korean border village of Panmunjom, where negotiators from the six countries involved in the nuclear talks were mapping out details of a disarmament-for-aid deal.

The North Korean nuclear envoy, Kim Kye Gwan, arrived in the Chinese capital earlier Tuesday but it had not been confirmed whether he would be meeting with Hill.

Hill was to meet with Chinese, Japanese and South Korean officials during his two-day visit. He leaves for Seoul on Thursday, said a U.S. Embassy official who did not give his name, in line with embassy policy.

Under a February agreement, North Korea pledged to abandon its nuclear ambitions in exchange for the equivalent of 1 million tons of oil and political concessions. North Korea has said it would disable its main nuclear facilities and declare all its atomic programs by year’s end.

The talks in Panmunjom are focusing on the delivery of oil aid, energy-related equipment and materials to North Korea. At the meeting, North Korea presented a list of hundreds of energy-related items and materials it wants to receive from other parties, mostly steel products for renovating its outdated power plants.

A U.S. team of nuclear experts traveled to North Korea earlier this month to prepare a plan for disabling key facilities at its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang. South Korean and U.S. officials have said other teams of technical experts will visit North Korea as early as this week to begin actual disablement procedures.

The communist government has already shut down its sole operating reactor in Yongbyon under an initial phase of the Feb. 13 deal in return for a shipment of 50,000 tons of oil aid from South Korea.

The Yongbyon complex is believed to have produced enough plutonium for more than a dozen bombs – including the device North Korea detonated a year ago to prove its long-suspected nuclear capability.

Besides the U.S. and North Korea, other countries involved in the talks are host China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.