The United States hopes its weekend talks with North Korea will make advances toward cracking the main obstacles that stand in the way of ending the country's nuclear weapons programme for good, the top US negotiator has said.
"This nuclear issue is a tough one," US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told reporters yesterday after his arrival from Washington for talks today and tomorrow with North Korea's chief negotiator, Kim Gye Gwan.
US President George W Bush said on Thursday it is possible that North Korea will give up its nuclear weapons programme before he leaves office. He said the United States, China, South Korea, Russia and Japan are making progress in their goal of achieving a de-nuclearised Korean peninsula, but he expressed frustration with the slow pace of the process.
Hill said he would try during the weekend talks to resolve some of the US-North Korean differences so that the overall "six-party talks" can wrap up two key issues by the end of the year: securing North Korea's agreement to declare all its nuclear activities and disabling the equipment used to make nuclear weapons.
"These programmes are not helping the DPRK," he said, using the initials of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. "In fact, they're driving the DPRK into a deeper sense of isolation, which we're trying to reverse."
He said he also expected to urge North Korea to resolve its dispute with Japan over abductions of Japanese civilians as a crucial condition before Washington can accept North Korea's demand that it be removed from a US list of countries accused of sponsoring terrorists.