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US, North Korean envoys meet in Beijing in attempt to revive disarmament process
China Koreas Nuclea 5220569
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, left, and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan are seen at the North Korean embassy in Beijing, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2008. The senior U.S. and North Korean negotiators met Tuesday for hurriedly arranged talks on salvaging a sputtering process to eliminate the North's nuclear programs. - photo by Associated Press
    INCHEON, South Korea — North Korea and U.S. negotiators met Tuesday for the first time in two months with Pyongyang expressing interest in resuming the stalled process to eliminate its nuclear programs, the main U.S. envoy said.
    Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said he and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan had ‘‘a good substantial discussion’’ in Beijing earlier Tuesday, but no breakthroughs were made.
    ‘‘They were interested in figuring out if we have a way forward on this,’’ Hill said after arriving in South Korea. ‘‘But we will see if we’re actually successful.’’
    The disarmament process has come to a virtual halt over differences on whether the North has fully accounted for its nuclear facilities. North Korea claims it gave the U.S. a nuclear list in November, but Washington says the communist nation never produced a complete declaration.
    In Beijing, Hill said the declaration should include uranium enrichment and Pyongyang’s relations with Syria, to which it has been accused of providing nuclear assistance. Damascus denies it has an undeclared atomic program, and North Korea has said it was not involved in any such project.
    ‘‘We had a discussion about what we think needs to be included in that. I think they understand our point of view, but we won’t have a complete and correct declaration until we have a complete and correct declaration,’’ Hill said at the Beijing airport before flying to Seoul.
    ‘‘So I am not sure we yet have an understanding on that,’’ he said.
    A February 2007 agreement and a follow-up pact in October — endorsed by China, Japan, Russia and South Korea as well as the United States and North Korea — promised the North energy aid and political concessions.
    North Korea pledged to disable its nuclear facilities and declare its programs by the end of the year in return for the equivalent of 1 million tons of oil.
    The North shut down its sole functioning atomic reactor in July and began to disable it and other facilities under the watch of U.S. experts in November.
    South Korea said Tuesday that 2,830 tons of steel will be shipped to North Korea on Friday as part of promised aid under the disarmament agreements. The shipment is about a tenth of what the South Korean government plans to send by June, the South’s Unification Ministry said.
    With President Bush leaving office in a year, Washington has shown urgency in North Korea’s nuclear disarmament.
    ‘‘This administration is running out of time,’’ said Jonathan Pollack, a Korea watcher at the U.S. Naval War College. ‘‘This was one of the few things we could say that the Bush administration could cite as a possible accomplishment of one kind or another by the end of the year. But it’s looking tough, barring a sudden breakthrough.’’
    Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice plans to visit the region next week, stopping in Beijing, Tokyo and Seoul, where she was to attend the inauguration of South Korea’s new president, Lee Myung-bak.
    Associated Press writer Henry Sanderson in Beijing contributed to this report.

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