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(LEAD) New U.S. administration should give priority to tackling N.K. nukes: ex-negotiator

All Headlines 11:51 October 09, 2016

(ATTN: CORRECTS dateline; UPDATES with more details in para 6; ADDS more background in para 4)

SEOUL, Oct. 9 (Yonhap) -- The incoming U.S. administration should give top priority to tackling N. Korea's nuclear development program, a former chief U.S. nuclear negotiator with Pyongyang said Sunday.

Former Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, who served as lead negotiator for the six-party nuclear talks with the North from 2005 to 2009, said in an interview on the U.S.-owned Voice of America (VOA) that in the past Washington tended to pay more attention to the Middle East than North Korea.

He claimed that the North posed a greater threat to the U.S. mainland than even the most serious developments coming out of the Middle East, and there should be recognition of this within the government.

The former negotiator's comments come after Pyongyang detonated its fifth nuclear device on Sept. 9, with experts predicting that it is planning additional provocations in the near future.

Hill then proposed that Washington needs to beef up its missile defense capabilities, continue military drills with South Korea, and discuss the possibility of political changes taking place on the Korean Peninsula in detail with Beijing.

On the issue of calls to engage in talks with Pyongyang, the former official, who was also the U.S. ambassador to South Korea, told VOA that dialogue should not be contingent on accepting new demands by the reclusive regime, such as halting annual South Korea-U.S. military maneuvers.

He emphasized that talks should instead center on the North past pledges that it will give up its nuclear weapons.

On calls for preemptive strikes against the North, Hill said such a step must be approached carefully since it entails the risk of conflict, although he showed understanding of why such comments are being expressed.

yonngong@yna.co.kr
(END)

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