A senior U.S. envoy's trip to North Korea did not stop the communist nation from restoring its nuclear facilities, the State Department said Friday.
Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill returned to South Korea from a three-day trip to the North to try to salvage a six-party disarmament pact after North Korea reversed the dismantlement of its nuclear facilities. He was hoping to draw the regime back to the negotiating table with an offer of a face-saving compromise.
But State Department spokesman Robert Wood in Washington told reporters the North was still moving equipment from its nuclear facilities it had put in storage back to its original location.
“Based on … recent information we've received, the North Koreans continue to take some steps to reverse disablement” at their Yongbyong nuclear facilities, Wood said. “If this activity is continuing, we obviously weren't able to get them to stop it.”
Back in Seoul, South Korea, on Friday, Hill described his talks in the North as lengthy.
“We had a lot of catching up to do and needless to say, there have been a lot of problems in the six-party process. So indeed, we did quite a substantial review of the activities in the last couple of months,” Hill said.
He refused to disclose further details, saying he first needed to report to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the other nations involved in the negotiations – China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.
China's new U.N. Ambassador Zhang Yesui expressed hope that the six parties “will maintain patience and demonstrate wisdom and flexibility” to resolve the current difficulties.
He added that “as the talks are currently facing some difficulty, I'm confident that China will continue to play a positive and constructive role.”
North Korea's defiance comes amid concern about authoritarian leader Kim Jong Il's health. Kim, 66, has not been seen in public since he reportedly suffered a stroke in August.
North Korea had been disabling its nuclear facilities at its Yongbyon complex as part of an aid-for-disarmament pact negotiated by the six nations, but abruptly stopped in mid-August, citing Washington's refusal to remove it from a list of state sponsors of terrorism.
The disarmament process snagged over Washington's request that the North agree to a verification system to account for its nuclear arsenal as a condition for removing the country from the terrorism list.
The detailed, four-page outline of the verification process that Washington seeks calls for a thorough inspection, soil samples, interviews with scientists and possible involvement of the United Nations' nuclear agency.
Notoriously reclusive North Korea objects to having to prove its declaration of nuclear facilities.
U.S. officials say the proposed verification is standard.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Thursday that Hill would not present North Korea with any proposals for substantive changes to the verification proposal, but would offer face-saving suggestions on how the “choreography” or timing of the process could be adjusted, perhaps by involving North Korea's main ally, China.