US envoy sees eventual N. Korean nuclear declaration

( Reuter )- The top U.S. negotiator with North Korea said on Wednesday Pyongyang is not yet ready to provide an accurate description of its nuclear programs but he expects them to do so eventually.

"The basic problem ... is that the DPRK is not yet prepared to provide the complete and correct declaration," Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill said, referring to the nation by its formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The U.S. diplomat told reporters he believed the next step in getting North Korea to abandon all its nuclear programs -- in which it is expected to relinquish all fissile material that could be used in atomic bombs -- would be even more difficult.

"I think we will figure out a way through the declaration," he said. "I am much more focused on the next set of problems."

A 2005 accord under which North Korea agreed to abandon all its nuclear programs in exchange for economic and diplomatic benefits has been bogged down by Pyongyang's failure to produce a declaration of its nuclear programs by the end of last year.

The so-called six-party agreement was hammered out among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.

A sticking point of the declaration had been Pyongyang's reluctance to discuss any transfers of nuclear technology to other nations, notably Syria, as well as its suspected pursuit of uranium enrichment.

That could provide a second path to obtaining fissile material in addition to the plutonium-based program North Korea has at its nuclear facility at Yongbyon.

The United States has questions about any possible North Korean role in a suspected covert nuclear site in Syria that was bombed by Israel in September. Syria has denied having a nuclear program but the case remains murky.

A senior U.S. official said Washington has begun exploring whether Pyongyang might disclose any proliferation and uranium enrichment in a separate document.

Under the six-party deal, once North Korea provides a complete and accurate declaration and fully disables Yongbyon, Washington has made clear it would relieve Pyongyang of sanctions under the U.S. state sponsors of terrorism list and the Trading with the Enemy Act.

Hill said that the timing of such steps was not a problem. "The really problematic element is that we don't have a commitment from the DPRK to provide a complete and correct declaration," he said. "They would rather have one that misses a few elements -- that is rather incomplete."

The United States and its allies Japan and South Korea had agreed to revive their previous practice of holding trilateral meetings to coordinate approaches to North Korea, Hill said.

"We would anticipate that before the next six-party meeting we'd probably do one of those trilateral meetings," he said.

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