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North Korea May Take First Step To End Nuclear Program

Incoming deputy US secretary of state John Negroponte said at his Senate confirming hearing this week that Washington wanted to get North Korea "committed to putting a freeze on its nuclear program" and "subjecting those activities to international inspection."
by P. Parameswaran
Washington (AFP) Feb 1, 2007
North Korea could agree to implement a "first tranche" of measures to end its nuclear weapons program during the upcoming round of six-nation talks in Beijing next week, the top US negotiator said Thursday. "What we hope to do in this round is to implement a first tranche of measures, which will be the beginning of the full implementation of the September (2005) agreement leading to full denuclearization of the Korean peninsula," Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told reporters.

He said the move "will be a substantial start" to making the Korean peninsula nuclear weapons free and added "there is a basis for making progress" at the talks in the Chinese capital beginning February 8.

Hill declined to elaborate on the measures, but some experts familiar with the talks said the steps could be linked to a freeze by Pyongyang on its nuclear activities at the key Yongbyon reactor in return for some benefits.

The Yongbyon complex produces spent fuel that can be "reprocessed" to yield plutonium for a nuclear weapon.

Incoming deputy US secretary of state John Negroponte said at his Senate confirming hearing this week that Washington wanted to get North Korea "committed to putting a freeze on its nuclear program" and "subjecting those activities to international inspection."

The step-by-step process for North Korea to abandon its atomic weapons program is seen as a rollback by the administration of President George W. Bush from its previous demand for a "complete, verifiable, and irreversible" dismantlement of Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal.

Apparently referring to Pyongyang's breach of an earlier agreement to freeze its nuclear activities, Hill said North Korea had been told explicitly that it could not shed its nuclear pariah status unless it completely disbanded its atomic weapons network.

"We have made it clear to the North Koreans that they should not be in this for the first tranche because we have a situation where a country has produced plutonium -- depending on who you believe -- for several weapons.

"Clear denuclearization is not achieved unless North Korea can get back into the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as a non-nuclear state and they are not going to be able do that until they give up these nuclear weapons and nuclear programs," he explained.

"I think they understand that they have to move beyond the first tranche."

Under the September 2005 deal, reached through an earlier series of talks among the United States, North Korea, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea, Pyongyang agreed to give up its atomic weapons program in exchange for security guarantees, economic aid and improved relations with Washington.

But North Korea walked away from the agreement a month later in protest at the imposition of US financial sanctions against a Macau bank accused of money-laundering for the regime in Pyongyang.

As part of the deal that enticed North Korea back to negotiations last month, Washington agreed to discuss the sanctions imposed on Banco Delta Asia (BDA) in parallel with the resumed denuclearization talks.

The last round of six-party negotiations in December ended in stalemate after North Korea, emboldened by its first-ever test of an atomic bomb in October last year, insisted that the US sanctions and broader UN measures imposed against the North be lifted.

The two sides held two days of "very productive" discussions in Beijing this week on the financial sanctions, US negotiator Daniel Glaser told reporters in the Chinese capital Thursday.

Asian diplomats said the United States was pushing North Korea to pledge in a written statement it would take immediate action towards denuclearization at the Beijing talks next week.

Hill also moved to distance the current US strategy from the so-called Agreed Framework implemented during the administration of then President Bill Clinton that was also aimed at freezing North Korea's nuclear program.

That agreement resulted from direct US-North Korea talks but collapsed after the North allegedly carried out a secret program to enrich uranium, triggering the current standoff in 2002.

"I will say that we have a six-party process. It is not just the US," Hill said. "It's a little more difficult for any one country to defy the other five participants than it is to have one country defy the whims of another country."

Source: Agence France-Presse

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