WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States, in the latest bid to salvage the North Korea nuclear deal, is sending a senior diplomat to meet with North Korean leaders, the State Department announced Monday.
A South Korean watches the demolition of a cooling tower at the North's Yongbyon nuclear complex June 27.
Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill, the point man for the United States in the complicated negotiations, is leaving Monday on a trip that will take him to South Korea, North Korea, China and Japan, State Department spokesman Robert Wood said.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the North Koreans "invited" Hill to visit.
"So we hope that there is some effort to address the verification protocol, because that's what we need," she said. "We need to move forward on the verification protocol. I think everybody is in agreement in the six parties, and -- or among the five parties, and so we'll look to see what they have to say."
Hill will meet with North Korean officials in Pyongyang, Wood said, but he offered no details about the meeting, its North Korean participants or how it was arranged.
In the past couple of weeks, North Korea has taken steps that could reverse the disabling of its Yongbyon nuclear reactor and reprocessing facilities that produced plutonium for nuclear weapons. The steps have come amid unconfirmed reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il may be seriously ill.
Rice "believes it's important for Chris to go out to the region, particularly to go to Pyongyang, to get a sense on the ground as to what is going on and to talk to North Korean officials about why they are taking the steps they are taking," Wood said.
The United States and its allies, in what is known as the six-party talks, insist that the North Koreans must provide a package of information on how to verify its earlier statements about the scope of its entire nuclear program.
"We encourage the North, very strongly, to submit that verification regime so that we can move forward on the other aspects, positive aspects, of the six-party framework," Wood said. "And Assistant Secretary Hill will be, obviously, out in the region looking for ways to work with our allies to bring North Korea into compliance with its obligations."
The North Koreans claim that the United States' demands are too intrusive.
Another sticking point is the question of when the United States will remove North Korea from the list of countries that sponsor terrorism. The United States insists that North Korea must provide verification details before it can be removed from the list.
"We have made the case over and over again that this needs to happen before we can take any stops in regard to delisting," Wood said.
"We are talking about a standard verification package. This is not onerous; this is not unusual in terms of trying to verify activities that may have taken place."
The present impasse is in contrast to the negotiating mood in late June when the North Koreans, with great fanfare and live television pictures, blew up the reactor cooling tower at the country's main nuclear plant.
The North Korean deal was one of the centerpieces of the Bush administration's international policy. Rice pushed ahead with the deal despite opposition from vocal critics such as former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton.
Now it will be up to Hill to see whether he can rescue the negotiations, both in his direct talks with the North Koreans and in consultations with the United States' partners in the talks: South Korea, China, Japan and Russia.
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