U.S. envoy looks to save nuclear deal in North Korea
A senior U.S. envoy traveled to North Korea on Wednesday in a bid to rescue a faltering nuclear disarmament deal and prevent Pyongyang from rebuilding a plant that made weapons-grade plutonium, Reuters reported.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill's visit comes days after North Korea threatened to break away from the disarmament-for-aid package and try to start separating plutonium at its nuclear plant that was being taken apart under the deal.
A U.S. official said Hill drove across the heavily armed border on his way from Seoul to Pyongyang early on Wednesday.
Hill told reporters on Tuesday he would press Pyongyang to accept a system to verify statements it made about its nuclear program and answer U.S. suspicions of a secret project to enrich uranium for weapons.
"What they have been doing, obviously, goes against the spirit of what we have been trying to accomplish," Hill said on Tuesday. He did not say when he planned to return.
The International Atomic Energy Agency said last week that the North was expelling U.N. monitors from its Yongbyon nuclear plant and planned to start reactivating it in days, rolling back the disarmament deal and putting pressure on Washington.
North Korea, which tested a nuclear device in October 2006, started to disable Yongbyon last November as part of the deal it reached with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States.
Experts have said most of the disablement steps, which would take about a year to reverse, have been completed and North Korea cannot easily get back into the plutonium producing business.
The North has baulked at U.S. demands about verification, fearing it to be too intrusive. Washington countered by making clear it would only remove Pyongyang from its "state sponsors of terrorism" list once the North agreed to a "robust" mechanism.