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US Envoy Defends North Korea Nuclear Talks Despite Setbacks

US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, top envoy to six-party nuclear talks over North Korea's nuclear program, speaks to the media in Beijing on December 9, 2008. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, top envoy to six-party nuclear talks over North Korea's nuclear program, speaks to the media in Beijing on December 9, 2008. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON, December 16, 2008 - Despite failing to reach an agreement on the verification of North Korea’s nuclear operations, the Six-Party Talks have made progress, says the top nuclear negotiator for the US.

In his remarks to the Asia Society, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill said that that the Six-Party Talks have successfully prevented North Korea from developing any more plutonium for its nuclear program.

"When we started this long negotiation in the summer of 2005, North Korea was merrily and busily producing plutonium," Hill said. "However, since the September 2005 joint statement, they have not produced even one gram of plutonium. I think the Six-Party process takes some credit for that."

The latest round of six-party disarmament talks held in Beijing broke down last week, when North Korea rejected a plan accepted by the US, South Korea, Japan, and China which requires Pyongyang to submit its claims of nuclear disarmament in writing.

According to Hill, the North Koreans said they did not want to see "IAEA" in any agreement, but he stressed that the IAEA has "an important role" in verifying the nuclear claims made by the North Koreans. "It has been a tough couple of weeks," admitted Hill.

Looking ahead, Hill hopes that North Korea will realize what 30 kilograms of plutonium is costing the country: "If you give up 30 kilos, we will relax economic sanctions. If you give up 30 kilos, we will sign, along with South Korea, the peace treaty on the Korean Peninsula. If you give up the 30 kilos, the United States will recognize you. If you give up the 30 kilos, we will sign a bilateral assistance program."

He continued, "And maybe at that point, North Korea will come to the understanding what most countries in the world have come to understand, which is you don’t need nuclear weapons to protect yourself; you need good relations with your neighbors to protect yourself; that is the strategy," he said.

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Part of the Asia-Pacific Strategic Challenges Series, the luncheon for Christopher Hill was sponsored by Raytheon, Boeing and Hitachi.

Reported by Nobuyoshi Sakajiri