SEOUL — The top U.S. envoy here was picked this week to lead the stalled six-party talks in the wake of North Korea’s announcement that it was abandoning the multinational negotiations and possessed nuclear weapons, according to the State Department.

Christopher Hill, who became the U.S. ambassador to South Korea last year, was picked by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this week to head the six-country delegation, according to the State Department. Hill will continue to serve as ambassador, according to spokesman Richard Boucher.

The Bush Administration has pushed for the six-party talks even as the Pyongyang regime refused to meet last year and requested the negotiations involve only the United States.

Last week, North Korea proclaimed through its state-run news agency that it had nuclear weapons and refused to meet again with the U.S., China, Japan, Russia and South Korea.

U.S. officials publicly reacted with little surprise at the announcement, saying intelligence has shown that the communist country has had a nuclear program but that it lacks the capabilities to launch a missile, Agence France Presse news agency reported Tuesday. Rice met with South Korean foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon this week in Washington as the White House said it would not offer more economic incentives to North Korea in return for reconvening the nuclear talks, the Associated Press reported.

Other six-party members in recent days reacted more forcefully, with China openly criticizing North Korea for halting the talks and South Korea offering to have two-way military talks between the two countries as a means to jump-start the dialogue.

On Tuesday, South Korean intelligence officials told National Assembly members that North Korea lacks technology to load nuclear weapons on missiles but could place them aboard an aircraft for delivery to targets, the Yonhap news agency reported.

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