A senior American diplomat plans to visit North Korea in the coming week in a bid to salvage a faltering international effort to get the communist country to give up nuclear weapons, U.S. officials said Saturday.
Christopher Hill, the chief American negotiator in the six-nation talks, will leave for South Korea on Monday and is expected to travel to the North shortly afterward amid growing concern the process is on the verge of collapse, the officials said.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack confirmed that Hill would fly to Seoul, South Korea, on Monday. He would not comment on any other stops Hill might make.
Other officials said Hill intended to visit North Korea to try to revive the six-nation process that has deteriorated since August, when North Korean leader Kim Jong Il is believed to have suffered a stroke and his country began steps to restart its disable nuclear reactor.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Hill's plans have not yet been announced and his mission in North Korea has not yet been fully defined. The Washington Post first reported on the development on its Web site Saturday.
Hill met with fellow envoys in international effort over the past week to come up with ways to try and persuade North Korea to reverse the actions it is taking at the Yongbyon nuclear facility and accept a plan to verify it has fully accounted for all past atomic activities.
Earlier this past week, North Korea ordered U.N. nuclear monitors to leave the country and said it would reinsert nuclear material into the plutonium-processing plant within a week, sparking alarm.
That led Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to warn the country that restarting its nuclear program "would only deepen its isolation." The North exploded a nuclear device in 2006.
After several months of promising moves, including submitting a long-delayed accounting of its atomic activities and blowing up the cooling tower at Yongbyon in June, the North stopped disabling Yongbyon in August to protest Washington's refusal to remove it from a list of countries that sponsor terrorism.
The United States says North Korea won't be taken off the list until it agrees to the verification plan.
North Korea had agreed last year to begin disabling its nuclear system in exchange for energy aid and other concessions from the five nations it is negotiating with: China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States.
On Friday, South Korea's foreign minister warned the North's moves toward restarting its nuclear plant could erase years of progress. "We are faced with a difficult situation where this (negotiation) is not moving forward and may go back to square one," Yu Myung-hwan said.