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U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Christopher Hill, the main U.S. envoy on the North Korean nuclear standoff, speaks during a lecture at Seoul National University in Seoul on Friday.

U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Christopher Hill, the main U.S. envoy on the North Korean nuclear standoff, speaks during a lecture at Seoul National University in Seoul on Friday. (Teri Weaver / S&S)

SEOUL — North Korea’s demand this week that talks about its nuclear ambitions should expand into multination disarmament talks was “silly” and “sarcastic,” according to the top U.S. envoy here.

Christopher Hill, just confirmed as assistant secretary of state in charge of East Asia, told a group of students and professors at Seoul National University that North Korea should get serious and return to stalled nuclear proliferation talks.

“It simply was not a serious answer for a serious issue,” Hill said in response to a question from Kim Min-ji, a Hanyang University senior who also is an intern for a Japanese-based media outlet. “I think they ought to come to the table. … I think they ought to stop with these silly press announcements.”

Hill was referring to the Korean Central News Agency, the government-run outlet that is one of the few ways the communist country communicates with the rest of the world.

Much of Hill’s hourlong talk with the students covered the faltering nuclear talks with North Korea.

Two months ago, Hill was appointed to head the U.S. role in the so-called “six-party” talks. The Bush administration has insisted that North Korea talk with all of its neighbors — China, Japan, Russia and South Korea — in addition to the United States about the communist country’s nuclear weapons program.

North Korea attended the group’s first three meetings but has declined to meet since last fall, citing what it calls U.S. leaders’ hostile stance toward the Pyongyang regime, a charge the United States denies. North Korea also has said it would rather negotiate directly with the United States.

Hill, who also served as the U.S. ambassador to Poland, talked about how Asia should look to Europe as the continent works to build coalitions, both politically and economically. As an example, he said, the recent efforts to help with the tsunami victims throughout Asia showed an outpouring of help but lacked a coordinated tactic to deliver the aid.

“I noticed there wasn’t an effort to try to react together, to coordinate together,” he said.

Kim Joo-hyung, a graduate student at Seoul National’s school of public administration, asked Hill about U.S. Forces Korea’s plans to relocate most of its military troops from the North Korean border toward the central part of the peninsula.

Hill tried to reassure the group that the moving plans, as well as plans to cut U.S. troops here by one-third during the next few years, should not affect South Korea’s safety or relationship with the United States.

“U.S. forces will remain in Korea as long at they are needed and as long as they are wanted,” Hill said.


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