U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill is planning to travel to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) this week in a last-ditch effort to salvage a faltering accord to end Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program, the Washington Post reported on Saturday.
Hill is seeking to arrange the rare visit in the wake of the DPRK's statement last week that it plans to begin reprocessing spent fuel rods into the raw material needed for nuclear weapons.
The announcement by Pyongyang "was a setback for the Bush administration's effort to claim progress in retraining North Korea's nuclear ambitions," the Washington Post said.
The U.S. State Department has not confirmed Hill's travel plans. But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in New York Friday that Washington is trying to persuade the DPRK to change its plan to reactivate Yongbyon reprocessing plant.
"We all are sending strong messages to the North Koreans that they should strop any reversals that they are carrying out," Rice said after meeting with key officials from countries involved in the six-party talks.
The six-party talks, involving the United States, the DPRK, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia, were designed for the settlement of nuclear issues on the Korean peninsula.
Hill visited the DPRK twice in 2007 after a long period in which U.S. officials were barred from substantive bilateral contacts with the Pyongyang officials.
The DPRK blew up on June 27 the cooling tower of its atomic reactor to demonstrate its commitment to nuclear disarmament, a day after handing over details of its atomic programs.
Under the 2007 pact, the DPRK pledged to disable its nuclear program in a step toward its eventual dismantlement in exchange for diplomatic concessions and energy aid. But the accord has been stalled due to disputes over the verification of a nuclear declaration between the DPRK and the United States.