updated 1/11/2006 9:16:35 PM ET 2006-01-12T02:16:35

The United States wants to quickly resume nuclear talks with North Korea, the U.S. envoy to Seoul said Thursday, as the top American negotiator headed to China for discussions on the North’s nuclear ambitions.

“The United States is eager to resume negotiations as soon as possible so that we can make rapid progress toward the elimination of North Korea’s nuclear programs,” U.S. ambassador Alexander Vershbow said in a speech in Seoul. “Our negotiators are packed and ready to go.”

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill arrived in South Korea late Wednesday from Tokyo, said he would seek information in Beijing on the latest North Korean thinking from its closest ally.

“We’ll have to see what the Chinese have heard most recently from the DPRK side, and perhaps they have some very fresh news,” Hill said upon arrival in Seoul late Wednesday, referring to the North by the abbreviation of its official name, the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea.

Hill’s Asia trip comes as six-nation nuclear talks aimed at getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear programs are stalled over Pyongyang’s anger at U.S.-imposed sanctions related to alleged counterfeiting and other wrongdoing by the North.

His schedule of talks with counterparts in Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing is also taking place amid unconfirmed reports that reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is visiting China.

The North Korean strongman is widely believed to have gone by train Tuesday to China, his country’s closest ally. But the trip has yet to be officially announced by North Korean or Chinese authorities, and his ultimate destination is unknown.

China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States have been engaged in negotiations with North Korea since 2003 aimed at persuading it to abandon its nuclear programs. The process resulted in a breakthrough in September when the North pledged to give up its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security assurances. But follow-up negotiations have stalled.

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