your connection to The Boston Globe

Envoys discuss next steps to N. Korea nuclear disarmament

US, Pyongyang officials reach limited accord

BEIJING -- The chief US nuclear envoy said he and his North Korean counterpart had reached a limited agreement on the next steps toward the communist country's nuclear disarmament in a meeting yesterday to lay the groundwork for upcoming six-party talks.

In optimistic comments after a meeting in Beijing, Christopher Hill said the two sides "have an agreement that we're going to try to identify types of disablement and how we can approach it." However, he said they have not reached any kind of agreement on the dismantling of North Korea's nuclear facilities.

Hill also said he and the North Korean envoy, Kim Kye Gwan, tentatively agreed to meet in late August to discuss the possibility of normalizing relations between their countries, something North Korea has been pressing for.

In February, the North committed to make a full declaration of all its nuclear programs and shut them down in exchange for energy assistance. It then switched off its sole operating nuclear reactor in July as part of that agreement with the five other parties to the disarmament talks -- the United States, Japan, China, South Korea, and Russia.

"We had a discussion about the sequence of declaration and disablement," Hill said. "In particular, we discussed the question of what is being precisely declared and what is being disabled.

"We would hope that declaration would come fairly early, followed by the disablement plan."

Hill described the meeting in Beijing as "very businesslike" and said it was aimed to smooth the way for six-party working group talks on Thursday and Friday in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang. .

The working groups will discuss technical issues surrounding the North's full declaration of nuclear programs and a schedule under which they would be disabled. Hill said he expected the working groups to put together a plan for implementation of the declaration and disablement.

The next round of regular six-party nuclear talks is expected to be held during the first week of September.

The previous round was held last month in Beijing.

Optimism has been building over North Korea's actions, with the leaders of the two Koreas to hold their first summit in seven years on Aug. 28-30.

South Korea said Monday it will delay its own military drills -- which had been scheduled to coincide with a joint exercise with the US military -- in a bid to improve conditions for an the upcoming summit with North Korea. However, officials said the South Korea-US joint exercise, which overlaps the summit, will take place as scheduled.

The delay was announced three days after North Korea urged the United States to cancel its war maneuvers with the South, scheduled for Aug. 20-31, warning that the exercises would have a "catastrophic impact" on the six-party talks.