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Marathon North Korea Nuclear Talks Appear To Secure Breakthrough

The region.
by Shigemi Sato and Jun Kwanwoo
Beijing (AFP) Feb 13, 2007
Marathon talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear weapons drive appeared to secure a major breakthrough on Tuesday with a joint agreement on first steps towards disarmament, envoys said. However, the deal still needed final approval from the governments of each of the six-nations involved -- host China, the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia -- and could yet fall apart, they warned.

China circulated a "final" joint statement outlining the first steps North Korea would take to end its nuclear drive and the economic rewards it would receive in return, US chief negotiator Christopher Hill and other envoys said.

"The Chinese side distributed a final text which will be referred to the capitals of the delegations. We will have another meeting tomorrow (Tuesday) and we will see if we can get it approved," Hill told reporters.

He described the text as "excellent" and said it outlined initial actions the parties involved in the talks could take to kickstart the process of North Korea dismantling its nuclear weapons programme.

Hill said North Korea, like the other five nations in the talks, had compromised on their positions during 16 hours of negotiations that did not wrap up until 2:00 am on Tuesday (1800 GMT Monday).

"It was a long day -- lot of effort by a lot of people," Hill said. "I think we made a lot of progress."

The fifth day of the current round of talks began on Monday morning with Hill saying he was not prepared to bargain any further and North Korea refusing to give more ground on its demands for oil and other incentives.

But amid fears the six-nation forum, which began in 2003, could collapse entirely if a deal was not reached, envoys bunkered down for a gruelling day of negotiations.

South Korea's Chun Yung-Woo said North Korean envoy Kim Kye-Gwan had agreed to the all the details in the joint statement ahead of China circulating it for final approval.

"We, the delegates, have agreed on the initial steps for North Korea to take for its denuclearisation," Chun told reporters.

"North Korea has agreed to the wording and all the figures stipulated in it."

Nevertheless, Chun, Hill and Japanese envoy Kenichiro Sasae all cautioned there was still no guarantee the deal would get the final green light and, even if it did, would ensure that North Korea remained committed to disarmament.

"We are not done. This is essentially some initial action so we have got a long way to go," Hill said.

Indeed, Hill said Tuesday's deal was based on a failed six-party agreement made in September 2005 in which North Korea agreed to give up its nuclear weapons programme in return for security guarantees, energy benefits and other aid.

That agreement fell apart two months later over North Korean objections to unrelated US sanctions imposed against it for money laundering and counterfeiting.

Pyongyang subsequently carried out is first-ever test of an atomic device in October last year -- an event which triggered United Nations sanctions on the impoverished nation and breathed new urgency into the six-party forum.

Officials have yet to specify the details of the new joint statement, but they made it clear that North Korea would be given rich incentives in terms of oil and other energy aid if it took first steps towards disarming.

"North Korea will get rewarded as much as it moves towards the dismantling of its nuclear programmes," South Korea's Chun said of the deal under discussion.

Press reports said earlier that North Korea was being asked to close its five-megawatt nuclear reactor at Yongbyon and other atomic facilities within two months.

But the reclusive Stalinist regime had reportedly demanded far more in return than the other parties were willing to offer.

Among North Korea's demands were two million tonnes of fuel oil and thousands of megawatts of electricity, press reports have said.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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US Happy With IAEA Reduction Of Technical Assistance To Iran
Vienna (AFP) Feb 12, 2007
The United States signalled Monday that the UN atomic agency's cuts in aid to Iran met requirements for tough measures intended to rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions. The International Atomic Energy Agency's reduction of technical aid to Iran's nuclear program by nearly a half appears to comply with sanctions levied by the UN Security Council, the US ambassador to the IAEA told AFP Monday.

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