BEIJING The top U.S. nuclear envoy said Friday there was still support for talks with North Korea to break a deadlock over verification of its nuclear programs, after Pyongyang took steps seen as reversing its promised disarmament.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said after meetings in Beijing that the U.S. was willing to sit down again with representatives from the five other countries involved in the disarmament talks.
"What we need to do is verify their nuclear declaration and we have put together a protocol that's based on international standards," Hill told reporters after meeting with South Korean and Japanese envoys. "I think there's a lot of support within the six party process for getting this done."
But Hill said there were no plans for talks with North Korea before he heads back to Washington.
The North began moving disassembled parts of its main nuclear reactor back to the plutonium-producing facility this week, putting into action its threat to restore atomic facilities that had been partially disabled under a disarmament pact, South Korea said Wednesday.
Pyongyang says the United States has not held up its end of their disarmament deal a promise to remove North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. Washington says it will take the North off the list only after it complies fully with the disarmament requirements.
"We have publicly said on a number of occasions that we are prepared to complete our obligations as they complete theirs, but a declaration without a protocol is only half of the obligation," Hill said.
The United States has played down the latest North Korean move, saying Pyongyang just moved some equipment out of storage and it has not yet started to "reconstruct, reintegrate this equipment back into the facility."
South Korea's chief nuclear negotiator, Kim Sook, said before leaving for Beijing that he did not have information on whether Pyongyang had done more to undo its disarmament steps, beyond moving equipment out of storage and placing it near the atomic reactor at its Yongbyon plant.
Hill will meet with host China's representative, Wu Dawei, on Saturday. He said it was in China's interest, a longtime friend of the isolated regime, to see the agreement does not fail.
The U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency has said it would take some time for North Korea to restore the facilities to an operational state because the country had already removed "essential" equipment from them.
South Korean and U.S. officials have said it would take at least a year for North Korea to restart the facilities once they are completely disabled.
The North conducted an underground nuclear test blast in October 2006. It later agreed with the U.S., China, South Korea, Japan and Russia to disable the Yongbyon plant in exchange for aid and diplomatic concessions. Work began in November last year.
There was major progress in June after North Korea submitted the long-delayed accounting of its nuclear activities and destroyed its nuclear cooling tower in a show of commitment to denuclearization.