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North Korea Says May Shut Down Nuclear Reactor Early

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by Staff Writers
Seoul (AFP) Jul 07, 2007
North Korea said Friday it is considering shutting down its nuclear reactor as soon as a first shipment of heavy fuel reaches the Stalinist state as part of a nuclear disarmament pact. Energy starved North Korea agreed in February to shutdown and seal its key Yongbyon reactor, which produces the raw material for bomb-making plutonium, in return for 50,000 tons of oil from South Korea.

But the North Korean foreign ministry said the shutdown could now occur "without waiting for the total quantity of heavy oil to reach its port."

"(North Korea) is now earnestly examining even the issue of suspending the operation of its nuclear facilities earlier than expected, that is from the moment the first shipment of heavy oil ... is made," the spokesman said in a statement carried by the North's official KCNA news agency.

South Korea promised to send its first shipment of fuel oil to its impoverished neighbour next Thursday, amid efforts to persuade the communist state quickly to shut down its nuclear weapons programme.

The South's Unification Ministry said Friday that 6,200 tons of heavy fuel oil would leave southeast Ulsan port for the North's Sonbong port on July 12.

The North's decision to consider speeding up the closure was prompted by "the desire to facilitate the process of the six-party talks," the foreign ministry spokesman said. Six-nation talks -- which involve the two Koreas, Japan, China, Russia and the United States, began in 2003 in an effort to convince North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programme.

The North tested its first atomic weapon last October.

A timetable for the next six-nation talks may be announced by host China next week, South Korea's chief nuclear envoy Chun Yung-Woo said Friday.

"There's an expectation that China may know each countries' situation by next week and make a decision on a date," Chun said upon arrival at Seoul's airport after a trip to China.

"We can predict a date depending on the arrival of the oil and what action North Korea will take. It would be good for the six-party talks to restart after North Korea shuts down its Yongbyon facilities," he added.

As part of the six-nation deal brokered in February, the North will receive another 950,000 tons of oil or equivalent aid, and major diplomatic concessions, if it permanently disables its nuclear plants and declares all its programmes. The South is paying for the first tranche.

The North said Friday that six-party members should speed up plans to provide the remaining 950,000 tons of heavy oil as part of the agreement.

"It is a stark fact already known to the world through the agreement that the DPRK (North Korea) cannot unilaterally suspend the operation of its nuclear facilities unless other participating countries fulfill their commitments," the foreign ministry spokesman said.

UN nuclear watchdog inspectors confirmed last Saturday after a preliminary visit to North Korea that it intends to shut down Yongbyon.

The International Atomic Energy board will meet in Vienna on Monday to authorise a second mission to monitor and verify the shutdown.

A nuclear inspector said Friday his agency plans an "intensive" presence in North Korea for the first few months.

"For the first couple of months, there will be an intensive presence and quite a large number of inspectors monitoring the nuclear facilities," said Malcolm Nicholas, section head of the IAEA's department of safeguards.

Nicholas, quoted by Yonhap news agency, told a Seoul forum the agency would reduce the number of inspectors after the initial shutdown stage, but that would not interfere with monitoring efforts.

earlier related report
China in discussions on restarting NKorea nuclear talks
Beijing (AFP) July 5 - China said Thursday it was liaising with the other five nations involved in North Korean nuclear disarmament talks on when to restart the process, following recent events that raised hopes of progress.

"As for a resumption date for the six-party talks, relevant parties have presented their ideas and proposals," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters.

"China holds an open attitude to these proposals. We are making active consultations with relevant parties," he said.

China is the host of the six-nation talks, which began in 2003 in an effort to convince North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programme.

The other four nations involved are the United States, South Korea, Russia and Japan.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Losyukov was quoted by ITAR-TASS news agency as saying on Wednesday that the talks could resume next week.

The potential restart of the talks comes after UN nuclear inspectors, the US envoy to the talks, Christopher Hill, and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi have all visited North Korea over the past fortnight.

North Korean officials told their guests that the country was prepared to close its main nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, which is the first major step it must take in implementing a six-nation disarmament accord brokered in February.

earlier related report
NKorea to work with UN watchdog on closing reactor: IAEA
Berlin (AFP) July 3 - North Korea has agreed to cooperate broadly with the UN nuclear watchdog to close its main nuclear reactor, according to an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report obtained by AFP Tuesday.

The report said Pyongyang would shut down the Yongbyon reactor, provide a comprehensive list of nuclear facilities that have been sealed to the IAEA, and grant an Agency team access to the sites when they have been closed.

The North Korean government also agreed to help with the "containment and surveillance" of the Yongbyon plant, which is at the core of its nuclear weapons drive, according to the four-page internal report by agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei to the IAEA governing council.

"The Agency will be informed in advance if the DPRK (North Korea) intends to move or remove any nuclear-related equipment or other essential equipment or components from the shutdown nuclear facilities or decommission any of these facilities," the report said.

IAEA inspectors were allowed into North Korea last week for the first time in nearly five years.

Team leader Olli Heinonen said during the trip that Pyongyang had agreed to close the reactor at Yongbyon soon but had not yet established a timeframe. The US envoy to the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear programme, Christopher Hill, has said he expected Yongbyon closed by mid-July.

North Korea struck a deal with the five participating nations -- China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States -- in February that would see Pyongyang scrap its nuclear programmes.

The reactor's closure is the first step in the nuclear deal, but it was delayed for months because of a dispute over North Korean funds that were frozen in a Macao bank by US sanctions.

The money was recently returned to Pyongyang.

Under the accord, North Korea must eventually completely dismantle the reactor and come clean on all of its nuclear programmes, including an enriched uranium-based scheme which it has denied operating.

In return, Pyongyang will eventually receive energy aid equivalent to one million tonnes of heavy fuel oil.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il called Tuesday for all sides to push forward a nuclear disarmament accord and said there were signs of easing tensions on the Korean peninsula, after talks with China's Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, Beijing's official news agency reported.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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Korea After Unification
Sapporo, Japan (UPI) Jul 06, 2007
It may years away, but the unification of the two Koreas is bound to occur some day -- the most likely route through the collapse of the North. This could occur because "Dear Leader" proves to be a threat to too many in the Communist leadership, who agree to unification with the South in exchange for retaining some position of authority in the unified state. Or it could occur as a result of a succession struggle emerging as a result of the demise, incapacitation, or de-legitimation of the "Dear Leader."

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