Assistant U.S. Secretary of State Christopher Hill, right, is greeted by Ri Kun, vice director of the North Korean Foreign Ministry's U.S. Affairs Department, in Pyongyang, Thursday. the high-ranking U.S. envoy made a trip to North Korea in a bid to accelerate international efforts to press the Stalinist government to abandon its nuclear weapons program. This photo was released by the Korean Central News Agency via the Korean News Service in Tokyo. / AP-Yonhap
By Yoon Won-sup
Christopher Hill, chief U.S. negotiator for the six-party talks arrived in Pyongyang, Thursday, for talks on North Korea's denuclearization, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said.
Hill's trip is the first such visit by a high-ranking U.S. negotiator in nearly five years.
``The U.S. assistant secretary of state will meet his North Korean counterpart Kim Gye-gwan to discuss implementation of the Feb. 13 agreement made at the six-party talks and normalization of Pyongyang-Washington relations,'' a ministry spokesman said.
Hill flew out of a U.S. air base in Osan, south of Seoul, to Pyongyang with Sung Kim, director of the Korea Desk at the U.S. State Department, and his aide Tom Gibbons.
He will come back to Seoul Friday afternoon to brief his South Korean counterpart Chun Young-woo on the trip and fly to Washington via Japan, according to ministry officials.
During meetings with North Korean officials, Hill will discuss procedures to shut down the nuclear facilities and a roadmap to complete the North's denuclearization this year.
Hill's visit is seen as a positive move toward North Korea's disarmament after problems with North Korea's frozen funds at a Macau bank, which stalled the six-party talks, have just been resolved. North Korea has said it is preparing to finally shut down its main nuclear reactors in Yongbyon, two months past the April 14 deadline under the Feb. 13 accord.
The visit also follows days before the North's invitation of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to North Korea to discuss the shutdown of its nuclear facilities in Yongbyon next week.
Spokesman Cho Hee-yong also expressed his hope that every single meeting between North Korea and the United States has meaningful results.
``The visit to Pyongyang basically means a bilateral meeting in the framework of the six-party talks, but they have more issues to discuss including normalization of relations as well as the nuclear issue,'' he added.
Hill is the highest-ranking U.S. State Department official to visit the communist nation since late 2002, when his predecessor James Kelly, following a short trip to Pyongyang, accused the North of running a clandestine uranium-based nuclear weapons program, triggering the outbreak of a fresh nuclear crisis.
Japan welcomed the visit. ``Dialogue is natural. Without dialogue the problem will not be resolved,'' AFP quoted Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as saying, known for his hard line on North Korea.
The department said, ``It is critical for the six parties to make up for lost time to restore momentum in achieving our agreed common goal: the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.''