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UPDATE 3-U.S., North Korea stay in contact in Geneva

(Recasts paragraph 1 and adds U.S. mission comment on Sung Kim meeting in paragraph 6)

The top U.S. negotiator on North Korea, Christopher Hill, told reporters he was departing for Warsaw, but leaving the state department’s head of Korean affairs, Sung Kim, in Geneva to follow up on Thursday’s talks.

The State Department’s Kim is an expert on North Korea’s nuclear programme and has visited the Yongbyon facility that is at the centre of negotiations and is currently being disabled.

“There’s a growing understanding of the issues that need to be resolved,” said Hill, who is pushing North Korea to speed up the pace of the talks.

His comments showed that relations between the two enemies had improved to the extent that they remained in touch, but they have still not agreed on how to carry out the deal in which Pyongyang will abandon its nuclear programme.

A spokesman for the U.S. mission in Geneva said State’s Kim had held a brief follow-up discussion on Friday with his North Korean working-level counterparts, but gave no further details.

North Korea agreed to abandon its nuclear programme in 2005 but the deal has been stalled by Pyongyang’s failure to produce a detailed declaration of its nuclear projects by the end of last year.

That deal was worked out in talks between six countries -- North and South Korea, Russia, Japan and the United States, with China chairing the negotiations.

In return for abandoning its nuclear programme, which can be used to produce nuclear weapons as well as energy, North Korea would receive humanitarian aid and fuel oil, and see relations with the rest of the world normalised.

That would include Washington dropping North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, and easing sanctions.

SIX PARTY TALKS

At Thursday’s meeting, Hill and North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-Gwan discussed all the issues including enriched uranium, proliferation, humanitarian aid, heavy fuel oil for North Korea and the abduction of Japanese citizens.

For the talks to progress, North Korea must provide China with a full declaration of its nuclear activities.

That would culminate with the final dismantling of the Yongbyon facility, but Hill said they were not yet ready to move to that phase.

North Korea’s reluctance to discuss transfers of nuclear technology to other countries and its suspected pursuit of uranium enrichment have delayed the declaration.

The United States has questions about a possible North Korean role in a suspected Syrian covert nuclear site bombed by Israel in September. A uranium enrichment programme would give North Korea a second source of fissile material to produce nuclear weapons besides its plutonium-based facilities.

North Korea’s Kim was quoted by Japanese and Korean media as denying any involvement in enrichment or proliferation.

“Our position is that there have never been such programmes in the past, there are no such things going on currently and that we will not engage in them in the future,” Kyodo News quoted him as saying.

Hill said further one-on-one meetings were needed before the six-party talks resumed, but said he had no meetings arranged.

“I think there might be another need for a consultation but frankly we’ll all have to do a number of consultations with different parties before we have a six-party meeting,” he said.

But Hill said the declaration from Pyongyang, whatever form it takes, was not the goal of the negotiations.

“The purpose of this six-party process is not a declaration. The purpose is the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and for that reason we really need to pick up the pace if we’re going to achieve that,” he said. (Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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