The Bush administration will conduct two days of talks this weekend in Geneva, Switzerland, with North Korean officials as part of a six-nation process aimed at eliminating North Korea's nuclear activities in exchange for economic and political benefits.
The denuclearization process has been making progress this summer with Pyongyang's shutdown of its Yongbyon reactor complex, but the most difficult steps remain. Christopher Hill, the U.S. assistant secretary of state who heads the U.S. negotiating team, told reporters today that he hopes the September 1-2 meeting of the U.S.-North Korea working group and of other groups will allow full talks to resume in early September in Beijing, followed by a first-ever meeting of all six foreign ministers. That would bring Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice face to face with the North Korean foreign minister.
Hill said one topic that will be discussed in Geneva is the eventual removal of North Korea from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. He also said that normalization of relations between the two antagonists could not be completed until North Korea is nuclear free. Hill said the administration hopes that the two major steps in the next phase of the process—a full declaration of all nuclear assets by North Korea and their verified disablement—can be finished by the end of this year, with final issues to be tackled in 2008. "We have a basis for moving forward," he said repeatedly, in carefully chosen phrasing.