The chief U.S. nuclear envoy stayed on in North Korea for an unexpected second day of talks Thursday to persuade Pyongyang to resume dismantling its nuclear program in exchange for energy aid.
Christopher Hill spent a second night in North Korea after meeting with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Kye Gwan, at the reclusive nation's invitation, U.S. officials said. He is expected to return to Seoul today.
Hill drove to Pyongyang on Wednesday to try and salvage the six-party talks that produced the landmark 2007 pact promising aid and other concessions to North if it abandoned its nuclear ambitions.
North Korea began disabling a nuclear reprocessing plant in Yongbyon – but then abruptly stopped last month, citing Washington's refusal to remove it from a terrorism blacklist. The U.S. maintains the agreement required North Korea to submit to a thorough verification of its nuclear accounting – a demand Pyongyang rejected.
North Korea's defiance comes amid concern about authoritarian leader Kim Jong Il's health. Kim, 66, has not been seen in public since reportedly suffering a stroke in August.
Also Thursday, South Korea's Dong-a Ilbo newspaper reported North Korea had upgraded facilities at a northeastern missile launch site, possibly to test-fire a long-range missile capable of reaching parts of the U.S.
North Korea launched a long-range Taepodong-2 missile in 2006 from the site in Musudan-ri, but that test was considered a failure. South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Won Tae-jae declined to confirm the report.
In Pyongyang, Hill was expected to propose ways to adjust the sequencing of steps North Korea must take as part of verification, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington.
A senior U.S. official said earlier Hill would offer to let North Korea agree to a verification program – but submit details first to its Chinese allies. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.