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US says it is 'stepping up cooperation' on disarming NKorea

by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) May 19, 2008
The United States said Monday it is "really stepping up cooperation" with close US allies Japan and South Korea over negotiations aimed at scrapping North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

US nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill told reporters he met with counterparts Kim Sook of South Korea and Akitaka Saiki of Japan in Washington to map out the road ahead.

But, speaking as the three stood together for photographers, he gave few details as the negotiations with North Korea appeared to reach a crucial stage.

"We're really stepping up our cooperation not only bilaterally but trilaterally. We have a lot to discuss here. We'll work out our work plan ahead," Hill told reporters.

He said he had "nothing new" to say on when he expected North Korea to deliver a long-awaited declaration on all its nuclear activities.

The North, which staged a nuclear test in October 2006, is disabling its plutonium-producing reactor and other plants under a deal reached last year with the United States, China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.

But disputes over the declaration due December 31 have blocked the start of the final phase of the process -- the permanent dismantling of the plants and the handover of all material.

In return for total denuclearization, the North would receive energy aid, a lifting of US sanctions, the establishment of diplomatic relations with Washington and a formal peace treaty.

North Korea also missed an end-of-year deadline to completely disable its nuclear plants, which US officials said earlier was due to technical reasons.

In addition to the declared plutonium operation, Washington said the declaration must clear up suspicions about an alleged secret uranium enrichment program and suspected involvement in building a nuclear reactor in Syria on a site that Israel bombed last September.

The North denies both activities. Under a reported deal, it will merely "acknowledge" US concerns about the two issues in a confidential separate document to Washington.

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SKorea nuclear envoy heads for talks in Washington
Seoul (AFP) May 18, 2008
South Korea's chief nuclear envoy left Sunday for talks in Washington amid hopes that North Korea would soon submit a long-awaited declaration on its nuclear programme.

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