BEIJING (Reuters) - North Korea is moving towards disabling its key nuclear complex, but has not yet agreed with the United States what nuclear activities it must disclose, the chief U.S. envoy to disarmament talks said on Wednesday.
Speaking after a rare trip by a U.S. official to the old Cold War foe, Christopher Hill told reporters that he had visited the Yongbyon nuclear complex, which contains the reactor at the heart of Pyongyang’s atomic programme, and seen that dismantling was going forward at three key units of the facility.
But Hill also said he had cautioned Pyongyang that a declaration of the North’s nuclear activities promised by the end of the year had to be “complete and correct” and contain no surprises.
“We wanted to make sure that they would include all the facilities, materials and programmes,” Hill told reporters in Beijing. “There are definitely some differences there.”
Hill said he still expected Yongbyon to be disabled by the end of the year and for North Korea to issue its disclosure.
But he was not sure there would be time for six-party talks involving the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and host China on the issue to be held by year-end.
Hill’s was the highest-level U.S. visit so far to the Yongbyon nuclear complex.
Poor and diplomatically isolated, North Korea tested a nuclear device last year, in defiance of international warnings. But months later it agreed at six-party talks to shut down the Yongbyon plant and admit U.N. atomic inspectors.
In exchange, the North is to receive aid, most of it in the form of heavy fuel oil needed to run its ageing factories, and improved diplomatic relations.
Before the end of the year the North is also meant to give a complete accounting of its nuclear arms programme, which will involve answering U.S. allegations about a secret programme to enrich uranium for weapons.
“North Korea’s list should be complete and full and should include all of its nuclear programmes, nuclear materials and nuclear facilities,” Hill had earlier told China’s Xinhua news agency in Pyongyang.
“I think the DPRK is working very hard for the declaration and we had some discussions about that ... so I’m assured they will be prepared to meet the deadline,” Hill said, referring to the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Even if it meets its year-end commitments, North Korea still has several steps to take before the other countries at the talks will consider it completely disarmed, including moving beyond disablement to completely dismantle its atomic facilities.
North Korea is hoping that in reward, Washington will follow through on its pledge to remove the North from a list of states that sponsor terrorism, a move that would bring a potentially huge influx of international aid.
Hill is due to hold talks with his Chinese counterpart, Wu Dawei, in Beijing.
Additional reporting by Lindsay Beck; Editing by Alex Richardson