March 2, 2008 / 4:30 AM / 12 years ago

U.S. envoy leaves China with no North Korea meeting

BEIJING (Reuters) - The top U.S. negotiator on North Korea was to leave China on Sunday without meeting his North Korean counterpart, who he said was “not ready” for talks aimed at pushing forward a stalled nuclear disarmament plan.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill smiles to the awaiting media as he arrives at Beijing airport February 18, 2008. he top U.S. negotiator on North Korea was to leave China on Sunday without meeting his North Korean counterpart, who he said was "not ready" for talks aimed at pushing forward a stalled nuclear disarmament plan. REUTERS/David Gray

Christopher Hill flew into the Chinese capital on Saturday, returning after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice hinted at progress toward ending the impasse over disarming North Korea during talks in Beijing last week.

Hill had indicated earlier in the week that he was returning to Beijing because China was trying to set up a meeting with North Korea’s top nuclear negotiator Kim Kye-gwan, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported.

Hill met Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei, but was stood up by the North Korean envoy.

“They’re looking at the ideas and haven’t decided what they want to do,” Kyodo quoted Hill as saying.

Hill was referring to ideas proposed by China on how to move forward a 2005 agreement under which North Korea committed to abandon all nuclear weapons and programs in exchange for economic and diplomatic benefits.

“We thought they might be ready to discuss it with us, and clearly they were not,” Hill said.

North Korea, which tested a nuclear device in October 2006, has shut down its Yongbyon reactor in accordance with the agreement struck at multilateral talks that group North and South Korea, the United States, Japan, Russia and host China.

But that accord has since become bogged down over Pyongyang’s failure to make a declaration of its nuclear programs by the end of last year.

U.S. officials and analysts say the declaration’s main sticking point is North Korea’s reluctance to discuss any transfers of nuclear technology, notably to Syria, as well as its suspected pursuit of uranium enrichment.

Hill, who stayed longer than planned last week in Beijing to work on reviving the disarmament effort, was scheduled to fly to Vietnam on Sunday.

Reporting by Lindsay Beck; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani

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