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U.S. Envoy To Asia Amid Reports On North Korean Nuclear Program

U.S. special envoy Stephen Bosworth

U.S. special envoy Stephen Bosworth

The U.S. State Department has announced that the top U.S. envoy on North Korean issues is heading to Asia for talks on the North Korean nuclear standoff.

The State Department said Stephen Bosworth was scheduled to start his trip today in North Korean rival South Korea, before moving on to Japan and China this week.

Announcement of the trip came as U.S. reports quoted an American nuclear scientist as saying he had recently visited North Korea and was permitted to tour what was described as a new plant for enriching uranium with hundreds of centrifuges already installed and running.

The scientist, Siegfried Hecker, is quoted in "The New York Times" as saying North Korean officials told him 2,000 centrifuges were operating at the facility.

But the scientist said he was prevented by the North from taking photographs and could not confirm this number, nor verify North Korean claims that the plant was already producing low-enriched uranium.

North Korea conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009.

compiled from agency reports