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Signs of NKorea nuclear progress but weapons elusive

by Staff Writers
Seoul (AFP) Sept 4, 2007
North Korea's agreement to disable its nuclear facilities by the end of the year is a hopeful sign but the communist state is a long way away from giving up its actual atomic weapons, analysts said Tuesday.

Confirming an earlier US report, a North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said Monday the two sides agreed during weekend talks in Geneva on "taking practical measures to neutralise the existing nuclear facilities ... within this year."

In return, he said, the US decided to remove the North from its list of state sponsors of terrorism and to lift sanctions applied under the Trading with the Enemy Act.

This claim was swiftly denied by the US side. Its chief negotiator Christopher Hill said Tuesday that a delisting depends on further steps towards denuclearisation.

In Geneva Sunday, Hill had said only that the two sides held "good discussions" on the terror list issue.

An ambitious six-nation February accord envisages the lifting of US sanctions, normalised relations with the US and Japan and major economic aid if the North declares and disables "all existing nuclear facilities."

Weapons are not specifically mentioned, even though the North tested its first atomic bomb last October.

"Nuclear weapons will require separate negotiations," said Jeung Young-Tae of the Korea Institute for National Unification.

"For North Korea, nuclear weapons are at the centre of its Songun (military first) policy. Giving them up means abandoning this policy. It will take a lot of time and efforts to assure Pyongyang that it can survive without this policy."

The North has pursued a nuclear programme for decades, even while its economy collapsed and during the famine years of the late 1990s.

The closure in July of its Yongbyon reactor, the first stage of the accord, means it cannot produce more raw material to make plutonium.

But it already has enough plutonium stockpiled to build about five to 12 nuclear weapons, according to varying estimates -- enough to create a credible nuclear deterrent.

"The two sides have buttoned the first button but this does not automatically guarantee that the disablement would lead to nuclear disarmament," Kim Sung-Han, professor of international relations at Korea University, told AFP.

Paik Haksoon, a senior analyst at the Sejong Institute think-tank, said it was a "very hopeful sign" that the two sides are talking about removing the North from the terrorism list and lifting sanctions.

The six parties -- the two Koreas, the US, China, Japan and Russia -- will meet in Beijing around mid-September to follow up on Geneva and on other working-level discussions.

But Paik said talks at present were about "nuclear facilities" and programmes, not weapons.

"The dismantlement of nuclear weapons ... will come at the very last stage, if it happens," Paik said.

"For North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, the abandoning of nuclear bombs is the last card to play."

The US in turn, he said, would very probably only make the political decision to normalise ties after North Korea gives up all its nuclear weapons.

But the Geneva agreement, Paik said, "is very important because, if implemented by year-end, it would finally bring real mutual trust between the US and North Korea."

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US, NKorea hold face-to-face nuclear talks in Geneva
Geneva (AFP) Sept 1, 2007
The United States and North Korea held the first of two days of face-to-face talks in Geneva on Saturday aimed at reaching an agreement on how to proceed with Pyongyang's denuclearisation pledge.

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