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N. Korea Reports Progress In Talks With U.S. Envoy

Associated Press
Saturday, January 20, 2007

SEOUL, Jan. 19 -- North Korea said Friday that progress had been made during talks with the United States this week on its nuclear program, and the top U.S. nuclear envoy suggested the foundation had been laid for more progress when six-nation nuclear negotiations resume.

North Korea's Foreign Ministry said three days of talks in Berlin between U.S. envoy Christopher R. Hill and North Korea's main nuclear negotiator, Kim Gye Gwan, had been held "in a positive and sincere atmosphere and a certain agreement was reached there." No further details were given.

Hill, meanwhile, said he had agreed with his North Korean counterpart "on a number of issues." He declined to elaborate.

"I am pretty convinced that we have the basis for a good session of the six-party talks," Hill told reporters in Seoul after meeting South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min Soon and nuclear envoy Chun Yung Woo.

The last round of six-nation talks in Beijing in December -- two months after the North conducted its first nuclear test -- ended without any breakthroughs. Diplomats have suggested those talks are likely to reconvene this month or next.

The negotiating countries, which include South Korea, the United States, Japan, China and Russia, had been seeking to outline how to implement a September 2005 agreement in which the North pledged to disarm in exchange for aid and security guarantees.

But North Korea refused to discuss its arms program and again demanded that the United States lift its blacklisting of a Macau bank. The United States had accused the bank of being complicit in the communist country's alleged counterfeiting and money laundering, leading the bank to freeze North Korean assets worth about $24 million.The United States is holding separate negotiations with North Korea on the financial dispute, but the last session, held alongside the nuclear talks in December, made no progress.

The North did not directly mention the financial dispute in its statement Friday but said progress was made in overcoming obstacles to the six-nation talks.

"We paid attention to the direct dialogue held by the [North] and the U.S. in a bid to settle knotty problems in resolving the nuclear issue," the North's ministry said in the statement, released by the country's official Korean Central News Agency.

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