US diplomat heads to North Korea
( AP ) - The U.S. State Department's top Korea expert headed Wednesday to North Korea to review work to disable its main nuclear complex as part of ongoing disarmament efforts.
Sung Kim traveled by land to the North from South Korea for a four-day trip, during which he is to inspect the North's plutonium-making reactor at Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang, and meet officials to move forward international disarmament talks, said U.S. Embassy spokesman Max Kwak.
China's top nuclear envoy Wu Dawei departed on Wednesday from North Korea after a three-day visit, the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported. On his trip, he also inspected the country's main nuclear facilities.
Watched by U.S. experts, North Korea began disabling its reactor last month and had pledged to complete the process and declare all its nuclear programs by year's end. In exchange, the U.S. agreed to seek normalizing ties with North Korea and remove the country from terrorism and trade sanctions blacklists.
A U.S.-led disablement team began transferring irradiated fuel rods from the Yongbyon reactor north of Pyongyang to water pools last week - a key step in the disabling procedures, according to the State Department.
Discharging the fuel rods is expected to be completed by mid-March, South Korean officials said.
Earlier this month, U.S. President George W. Bush sent an unprecedented letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, saying he expected Pyongyang to keep its year-end deadline for the disclosure. The North sent back a brief verbal message, demanding Washington should also fulfill promises under an international disarmament-for-aid deal.