SKOPJE -- The United States' chief negotiator in the ongoing talks over North Korea's nuclear program, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill, made a homecoming of sorts this week when he traveled to Macedonia to be decorated as an honorary citizen of its capital, Skopje.
Hill served as ambassador to Macedonia from 1996-99, and was described this week by Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski as the country's "great friend and supporter." Sladjana Bozinovska of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service caught up with the envoy to discuss his current work and his thoughts on Macedonia's future. RFE/RL:
After being posted in the Balkans you are now focused on the Far East and Asia, can you update us on the process of denuclearizing North Korea?Christopher Hill:
Well, we're in the middle of a very difficult step-by-step process involving denuclearization of North Korea. We are involved in a step-by-step basis because the North Koreans did not want to just easily denuclearize, so we're trying to it on the basis that they take some small steps, we take some small steps. To help them, they take some additional steps, we take some steps -- we call that action for action.
So, we are making some progress, but we have a long way to go. And the progress is that they have shut down their nuclear facility, so they're not producing more plutonium, but what we still have to do is get them to give us -- turn over to the international community -- the plutonium they've already produced, and to do that in a way that's verifiable so we know precisely how much plutonium they have and how much they need to turn over.RFE/RL:
Do you think that the potential success in North Korea can be applied in the case of Iran?Hill:
I don't know. Every situation like this is very different, so I think you have to be careful not to draw too many parallels between North Korea and Iran, and I think you have to respect the differences in the situations.RFE/RL:
Is it hard to reach a consensus in the UN Security Council? What are the interests of China and Russia?Hill:
Well, we work together with China and Russia in something called the six-party talks. China is in the chair of our process. I think what is important about our process is that everybody shares the same goal -- the goal of denuclearizing North Korea -- nobody wants North Korea to have nuclear weapons. So we have the same goal, but the but the challenge is to try to synchronize the tactics we pursue to try to achieve this goal.RFE/RL:
Is there a chance of nuclear material falling into the hands of terrorists?Hill:
Well, I think everybody who is involved in these nuclear talks is always concerned that the more nuclear material there is out there in the world, the more chance there is for terrorists to somehow get their hands on it. So, we want to make sure that we can reduce the amount of nuclear material out there and, in particular, reduce the number of countries -- especially the countries that are pursuing these weapons outside of any international norms. We want to make sure that we can stop that and reverse it.Macedonian HomecomingRFE/RL:
This is the second time in a short span that you have returned to Macedonia to receive an award -- this time the honor of being named an honorary citizen of Skopje. Can you tell us what these awards mean to you?Hill:
Well, first of all, I'm very honored to receive this award. It truly was very good news for me when I was informed of the city's desire to give me an award here. I very much enjoyed my time here. I very much enjoyed my living in Skopje. So, I was, as I said, very honored. It's not the only reason I come back to Macedonia. I don't need an award to come back to Macedonia. I have many friends in this country, I really enjoy my stay here and look forward to coming again in the future -- even when I'm not receiving any kind of award.RFE/RL:
When you were posted in Macedonia it was a difficult, turbulent time for the country. From this perspective, what are your thoughts on the current and future situations in Macedonia?Hill:
In some respects the situation now is better for Macedonia. It is not a country where there is a war going on across the border. That said, there are new challenges for Macedonia, and I think there will be continued challenges for Macedonia
But I think as long as there is this consensus on where Macedonia should go -- that is, toward NATO, toward the European Union -- I think Macedonia will have a good future.
And the United States, I think, is a good friend of Macedonia and will try to assist Macedonia along the way. Today I had the opportunity to visit this new American embassy, which I think will be a very beautiful embassy here in Skopje. And I hope that people in Skopje will look at this embassy as a symbol of America's commitment to the long-term and good relationship with this country.