Byline: Nicholas Kralev, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The chief U.S. negotiator with North Korea predicted yesterday that the North will meet its obligations under the first phase of last month's agreement to shut down its nuclear programs, but warned that the next stage will be much more difficult.
Christopher Hill said after two days of talks in New York with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Kye-gwan, that Pyongyang must "come clean" on its suspected uranium-enrichment efforts before any final disarmament declaration is adopted.
"There was a sense of optimism on both sides that we will get through this 60-day period and will achieve all of our objectives that are set out in the Feb. 13 agreement," said Mr. Hill, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs.
The North Koreans "are prepared to live up to all their obligations in the 60-day period," he said. The Feb. 13 accord requires the North to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor and allow U.N. inspectors to verify the closure within that time frame.
On a parallel track, Japan and North Korea started their first formal bilateral talks in more than a year today, aiming to end an emotional row over Pyongyang's abductions of Japanese citizens and to normalize relations.
Diplomats meeting in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi agreed to spend today on the issue of the kidnappings in the 1970s and '80s and to work tomorrow toward normalizing ties in talks at both the Japanese and North Korean embassies.
Tokyo has refused, due to the kidnapping row, to help fund the landmark Feb. 13 deal struck in Beijing.
Mr. Hill urged the North Koreans, as well as the other four participants in the six-party talks that produced the February agreement - China, South Korea, Japan and Russia - to "immediately get into the next phase" in mid-April and "not lose any momentum."
He warned that the second stage will be more difficult because it deals with disabling the North's facilities so that they cannot be turned back on again.
The New York talks marked the beginning of work on normalizing U.S.-North Korean diplomatic relations, one of five working groups set up by the Feb. 13 deal. All five must meet by mid-March and Mr. Hill said some of them may be pushing the deadline.
Other groups dealing with denuclearization, energy and economic assistance, and Northeast Asian security will convene in Beijing next week. …