Seoul (AFP) July 15, 2007
North Korea confirmed Sunday that it had shut down its Yongbyon atomic reactor under UN supervision, the first step in a process designed to rid the communist state of nuclear weapons. The closure of the facility, which produces plutonium for nuclear weapons, is the first step taken by Pyongyang toward ending its atomic programme since 2002, and the first phase of a six-nation disarmament deal reached in February.
The United States, South Korea and Russia -- parties to the six-nation talks with the North along with China and Japan -- welcomed the move, but Washington said more needed to be done to speed up the disarmament process.
"We shut down the nuclear facilities at Yongbyon and allowed the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) personnel to monitor it on the 14th, when the first shipment out of 50,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil arrived," a foreign ministry spokesman told the official Korean Central News Agency.
The agency's dispatch, sent via e-mail to AFP, was the first report of the closure from Pyongyang, which shocked the world last October with its first atomic bomb test.
It is the first time that Yongbyon has been closed as a political act since a previous disarmament deal collapsed in late 2002, but enough plutonium for several more bombs is thought to have been extracted since then.
"We have fulfilled our promises in advance... which shows our commitment to the implementation of the agreement," the spokesman told KCNA.
The North had earlier insisted on first receiving all 50,000 tonnes of fuel oil promised in compensation for the shutdown under the February accord.
The first shipment of 6,200 tonnes arrived early Saturday in the North from South Korea. A 10-strong team of inspectors from the IAEA, the UN's nuclear watchdog, landed the same day with one tonne of monitoring equipment.
The inspectors were to start verifying the closure on Sunday, Christopher Hill, US chief negotiator to the six-party talks, told reporters in Japan.
On arrival in South Korea late Sunday, Hill said he would hold a bilateral meeting with his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye-Gwan in Beijing on Tuesday, the day before six-party talks are set to resume.
Hill welcomed the shutdown but said much work lay ahead and called for speedier progress. "That was a very important first step but there are still many more steps to go," he told reporters.
"I must say, if we don't take steps a little more quickly than we have taken the first step, we are going to fall way behind again."
The shutdown was delayed for months by a now-resolved row over US financial sanctions.
South Korea's foreign ministry described the news as "encouraging progress" while in Russia, a foreign ministry spokesman described the shutdown as "a positive factor".
The North will receive another 950,000 tons of fuel oil or equivalent aid, plus major diplomatic benefits and security guarantees, if it goes on to declare all nuclear programmes and permanently disable all nuclear facilities.
The US and its partners say "facilities" must include weapons and plutonium stockpiles even though weapons are not specifically mentioned in the February agreement.
The North's foreign ministry spokesman said the IAEA activities in Yongbyon did not constitute an inspection and would be limited to verification and monitoring the shutdown.
He also said full implementation of the February accord would depend "on what practical measures the US and Japan, in particular, will take to roll back their hostile policies" towards the North.
Washington, which envisages diplomatic relations and a formal peace pact if the North fulfils all commitments, wants to know the status of an alleged highly enriched uranium (HEU) programme separate to the plutonium operation.
US claims in 2002 of the HEU programme, denied by the North, led to the suspension of fuel oil shipments and the collapse of a bilateral deal which had kept Yongbyon shut since 1994.
US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said Sunday the aim was "ultimately dismantling that programme, getting a full accounting of what they've been doing with any covert enrichment programme and finally getting them to turn over any nuclear materials from which nuclear weapons have or could be made."
The IAEA visit is the first by working inspectors since North Korea expelled the UN agency in December 2002 in response to the fuel cutoff and re-started Yongbyon.
The reactor has produced enough plutonium to make five to 12 bombs since it began operating in 1987, according to varying international estimates.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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Korea Nuke Talks To Resume As IAEA Expects Smooth Shutdown And Oil Flows North
Beijing (AFP) Jul 13, 2007
Six-nation talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programme will resume here next week in an effort to build on recent positive developments, China's foreign ministry said Thursday. "The heads of delegations of the six-party talks will resume discussions in Beijing on July 18 and 19," ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters. He said China, the traditional host of the talks, and the other nations involved had agreed that further discussions were timely to build on recent progress towards North Korean disarmament.
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