( Reuters ) - The chief U.S. envoy to nuclear disarmament discussions with North Korea said he had "good" talks in Pyongyang, Xinhua news agency reported on Friday at the end of Christopher Hill's surprise visit to the isolated state.
The most senior State Department official to visit the North Korean capital in nearly five years, Hill pushed Pyongyang to live up to a February deal to shut its source of bomb-grade plutonium in exchange for aid.
"It's ... a very good discussion," Xinhua quoted Hill as saying.
However, a Pyongyang diplomat in Vienna raised the prospect of further delays to implementation of February's disarmament-for-aid deal, saying an impasse over North Korean funds frozen in a Macau bank had not been resolved.
Hill met North Korea's Foreign Minister, Pak Ui-chun, and its nuclear negotiator, Kim Kye-gwan, during his visit of about 24 hours, Xinhua said.
He landed in South Korea on Friday, officials said, and was due to go on from there to Japan.
Washington said Hill's trip to Pyongyang was meant to test "the proposition that North Korea has made that strategic decision to dismantle ... and give up their nuclear programs."
At the last high-level visit of a State Department official, in 2002, envoy James Kelly confronted the North with evidence Washington said pointed to a covert uranium enrichment program.
The crisis following that confrontation led North Korea to expel U.N. nuclear inspectors and culminated in the communist state's first nuclear test last October.
North Korea said last weekend it would re-admit inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as required under the February accord struck at six-party talks among the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.
That followed signs that most of the $25 million in North Korean funds frozen in a Macau bank for nearly two years for suspected links to illicit activity by Pyongyang was making its way back to the North.
But a North Korean diplomat in Vienna, home of the IAEA, said Pyongyang had not yet received the money.
"So our side has informed the IAEA that we have no objection to them preparing the visit as a plan, but we are not ready to give our official confirmation for the visit as scheduled by the agency," said Hyon Yong-man, counselor at the embassy in Vienna.
But Hill and diplomats in Moscow and Seoul said the funds were on their way to a North Korean account in a bank in Russia.
Xinhua quoted Hill as saying that the six parties negotiating an end to North Korea's nuclear arms program were "talking about trying to have a ... meeting as soon as possible."
The New York Times reported the Bush administration was considering authorizing Hill to offer to buy nuclear equipment the secretive state purchased from Pakistan to enrich uranium into nuclear bomb-grade material. It was not clear whether Hill made the offer during his visit, it said.
U.S. officials said Washington is insisting that multiple facilities at North Korea's Yongbyon reactor be shut down.
Jon Wolfsthal, a former on-site monitor at Yongbyon for the U.S. Department of Energy, told Reuters the complex has over 100 buildings, including dozens of sensitive facilities.
He said the fact that all the Yongbyon sites to be covered by the shutdown were not detailed demonstrates the "inherent challenge of the February agreement where almost nothing is precisely (spelled out) and every step is going to have to be negotiated and hammered out with the North Koreans."
(Additional reporting by Carol Giacomo in Washington, Mark Heinrich in Vienna, and Jack Kim and Jessica Kim in Seoul)