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    U.S. envoy ends last-ditch N.Korea nuclear talks

    03.10.2008 - 11:42 | Son Güncelleme: 03.10.2008 - 11:50

    U.S. diplomat Christopher Hill ended talks in Pyongyang on Friday aimed at convincing North Korea to abide by a sputtering disarmament deal, although Washington has said it would not offer new concessions.

    Hill has been in Pyongyang since Wednesday seeking a deal that would allow monitors into the secretive country to check claims it made about its nuclear programme in exchange for better trading ties and standing in the international community.

    Hill crossed into the South on Friday afternoon local time and was expected to brief South Korean officials and a visiting Japanese nuclear envoy before meeting with the media to discuss details of his visit.

    A U.S. State Department spokesman said on Thursday that Hill was discussing a nuclear verification system in Pyongyang.

    "Chris was not going to Pyongyang with any new proposals regarding the substance of the verification regime," Sean McCormack told reporters in Washington.

    The nuclear agreement North Korea struck with five regional powers seemed in peril after an angry Pyongyang last month vowed to rebuild its ageing Yongbyon nuclear plant in anger at not being removed from a U.S. terrorism blacklist.

    The United States said it would take the North off the list -- which would bring economic and diplomatic benefits -- once it has reached a system to verify its nuclear claims, including answering U.S. suspicions that it had a secret programme to enrich uranium for weapons.

    The energy-starved North started to disable Yongbyon in November under the deal. If it backs away, it stands to lose about half a million tonnes of heavy fuel oil, or aid of equal value, that had been pledged to it for previous progress it made.

     Last month Pyongyang ordered the expulsion of U.N. monitors from the plant, and said it planned to start reactivating the Soviet-era reactor.

    North Korea has been sending out mixed signals over the past few weeks. It has fanned hopes of backing off its threats by inviting Hill to visit and holding its first direct talks with South Korea in almost a year.

    However, South Korean government officials have told local media the North may be looking to ratchet up tensions by making moves around the site where it launches missiles and the spot where it held its first and only nuclear test two years ago.

    Adding to the level of uncertainty is the health of the North's leader Kim Jong-il. U.S. and South Korean officials said he may have suffered a stroke in August, raising questions about succession in Asia's only communist dynasty and who is making the decisions regarding its nuclear programme.

    The North's state media has not reported on any public activities involving Kim for about 50 days. But on Thursday, its communist party newspaper referred to his health for the first time since the reports of his stroke, saying Kim had a tiring summer inspecting all parts of his country.

    "While everyone else in the world is busy vacationing, we saw a flow of news sent into the universe on Kim's endless on-site inspections through a long and rough journey," it said.

    Photo: Reuters



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