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U.S., North Korea Discuss Next Step in Nuclear Disarmament

The chief U.S. nuclear envoy said Monday that he and his North Korean counterpart had reached a limited agreement on the next steps toward the communist country's nuclear disarmament.

Christopher Hill said the two sides "have an agreement that we're going to try to identify types of disablement and how we can approach it." However, he said they have not reached any kind of agreement on the dismantling of North Korea's nuclear facilities.

Hill also said he and the North Korean envoy, Kim Kye Gwan, have a tentative agreement to meet in late August to discuss the possibility of normalizing relations between their countries, something North Korea has been pressing for.

Hill said the meeting between the two on Monday in Beijing was "very businesslike" and aimed to smooth the way for six-party working group talks on Thursday and Friday in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang.

The North committed to a full declaration of all its nuclear programs and shut down in a February agreement under which it would receive energy assistance in exchange for ending its nuclear programs.

"We would hope that declaration would come fairly early, followed by the disablement plan," Hill said. "We've got to sit down and work that through," he said.

Hill said the Shenyang meeting would discuss technical issues surrounding North Korea's full declaration of all nuclear programs and a schedule under which they would be disabled.

The six nations involved in the talks are the two Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and the U.S.

Optimism has been building over North Korea's actions, with the leaders of the two Koreas to hold their first summit in seven years later this month.

The last round of the nuclear talks -- consisting of the United States, two Koreas, China, Russia and Japan -- was held in Beijing last month. The next round is expected to be held during the first week of September. North Korea switched off its sole operating nuclear reactor in July as part of a February agreement with the five other countries.

North Korea has received 50,000 tons of heavy oil from South Korea as a reward for that first step, and the energy-starved country is to eventually receive aid equivalent to 950,000 tons of oil for declaring all its nuclear programs and disabling its facilities.

The reactor shutdown was the first step North Korea has taken to scale back its nuclear ambitions since the crisis began in late 2002, when a 1994 disarmament deal fell apart and the North reactivated its reactor to produce plutonium for bombs.

Confirming it could build a weapon, the North conducted its first-ever nuclear test in October.