The top US nuclear envoy made a surprise visit to North Korea on Thursday as the Philippine foreign minister -- just back from the reclusive state -- said Pyongyang was committed to keeping its pledges under a disarmament deal but wanted other countries to do the same.
US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill had said that six-country talks on the deal, under which, the impoverished communist country would receive hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, would likely resume in early July.
But he said during talks in Tokyo Pyongyang must keep the promise it made in February to shut down a nuclear reactor.
"We have to catch up on some of the timelines, because we really fell behind this spring. I think we have to do everything we can do to accelerate the timelines," Hill told reporters in Tokyo.
Hill is the most senior State Department official to visit North Korea since October 2002, when envoy James Kelly confronted Pyongyang with evidence that Washington said pointed to a covert uranium enrichment programme.
In Beijing, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo said senior North Korean officials had told him they were committed to denuclearising the peninsula and keeping their side of the Feb. 13 disarmament deal -- if others did the same.
"What was stressed to me by the foreign minister and the president of the DPRK is that the key to the implementation of the February 13 agreement is confidence amongst each other, and they stressed the principle of action-for-action," Romulo told Reuters in an interview.
North Korea's formal name is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Hill will stay in Pyongyang through Friday and meet his North Korean counterpart in the nuclear talks, Vice Foreign minister Kim Kye-gwan, a U.S. State Department spokesman said.
North Korea, which conducted its first nuclear test last October, said on Saturday it would re-admit inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), as required under the accord clinched in Beijing on Feb. 13.
The inspectors are due to arrive in Pyongyang next week.
That decision followed signs that most of the $25 million in North Korean funds frozen in a Macau bank for nearly two years was making its way back to the North.
An unidentified North Korean diplomatic source, quoted by Russia's Interfax news agency on Monday, said the North would seal the reactor at Yongbyon, about 100 km north of Pyongyang, in the second half of July.
China, host to earlier rounds of the six-party talks, urged all participants to keep their promises under the deal.
"China hopes all sides can continue to adopt active steps, seriously fulfil their promises so as to ... push forward the development of the six-party talks and the process of the nuclear-free Korean peninsula," Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said in Beijing.
"China will continue to make unremitting efforts for that."
Diplomatic analysts said both Washington and Pyongyang were eager to see speedy results in the nuclear disarmament talks.
Pyongyang is keen to receive energy aid promised under the February deal, see trade sanctions imposed after its nuclear test lifted, and be removed from Washington's list of state sponsors of terrorism, said Noriyuki Suzuki, chief analyst at Tokyo-based Radiopress, which monitors North Korean media.
"North Korea wants to normalise ties with the United States and get what it can get. They want to pick up the pace," he said.
Washington is also eager for results from the disarmament talks before George W. Bush's presidency ends, analysts said.
"The United States had been wanting to speed up the process and solve the issue during the Bush administration," said Lee Jong-won, a professor at Tokyo's Rikkyo University.
The six-country talks bring together the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia.