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US envoy tells SKorean president efforts to end North’s nuclear programs must continue

    SEOUL, South Korea — A top U.S. nuclear envoy told South Korea’s president Wednesday that the countries working to ensure North Korea abandons its nuclear weapons must keep pushing until their task is accomplished.
    Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill was visiting the region for the first time since North Korea missed a year-end deadline to disable its nuclear facilities and fully account for its nuclear programs.
    ‘‘We just talked about the need to finish this job,’’ Hill told reporters after meeting with President Roh Moo-hyun.
    The U.S. diplomat acknowledged that while the process of getting North Korea to give up its nuclear programs can be ‘‘tiring,’’ it was vital to ‘‘keep working at it and try to finish it.’’
    The North had agreed to disablement in return for aid and political concessions from the U.S., South Korea, China, Russia. Japan is also part of talks on North Korea’s nuclear program, but has not offered any aid or concessions.
    Hill, who arrived in South Korea on Tuesday from Japan as part of a regional tour to fine-tune strategy for pushing ahead with the North Korean disarmament process, also held meetings Wednesday with Roh’s security adviser, Foreign Minister Song Min-soon and former opposition leader Park Geun-hye.
    On Thursday, Hill is to meet President-elect Lee Myung-bak, a conservative who has vowed to take a harder line toward North Korea. For the past decade, Roh and his predecessor, Kim Dae-jung, have largely pursued a policy of economic and political engagement with the North.
    Hill said he assured Roh that the U.S. will continue to work with South Korea despite the change in administration.
    ‘‘It’s very important to all the Korean people and the entire Korean peninsula, so I told him not to worry, that we will continue to work on this, and work very closely’’ with South Korea, Hill said.
    Although North Korea has yet to produce a nuclear declaration acceptable to Washington, disablement work is progressing. The country said it gave a list of its nuclear programs to the U.S. in November and tried its best to meet its obligations.
    Hill called for patience with the disarmament process.
    ‘‘I’m not too concerned about them being a little late,’’ Hill told reporters Tuesday. ‘‘I don’t think there is any reason to panic, no reason to get upset to turn this into a crisis.’’
    The U.S. is pushing for a complete declaration from North Korea, including asking it to address its suspected uranium enrichment program — an important sticking point that touched off a nuclear standoff in late 2002. North Korea denies ever having such a program.
    Hill declined to discuss what was holding up the declaration, but said Washington has had ‘‘considerably detailed discussions’’ with North Korea and the communist nation clearly knows what the U.S. wants in the declaration.
    Hill stressed that North Korea stands to gain a lot from carrying out its obligations, apparently holding out the prospect of removing it from Washington’s terrorism and trade blacklists.
    Hill is to travel to China on Thursday and then to Russia.

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