Seoul (AFP) Jul 17, 2007
The UN's nuclear watchdog confirmed Monday that North Korea has shut the reactor which produces bomb-making plutonium but the chief US negotiator forecast problems persuading Pyongyang to totally abandon its nuclear ambitions. "Our inspectors are there. They verified the shutting down of the reactor yesterday," International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head Mohamed ElBaradei said in Bangkok. "It's a good step in the right direction."
The North announced Sunday it had closed the Yongbyon complex, its first step since 2002 towards ending a programme which culminated in an atomic bomb test last October.
US envoy Christopher Hill, preparing for another meeting this week of the six-nation group which negotiated a February disarmament deal, also hailed "a good start" but warned of much work ahead.
"It took a long time to get these first steps and it's a reminder of how difficult other steps will be," said the US assistant secretary of state at a meeting in Seoul with South Korea's Unification Minister Lee Jae-Joung.
A row over US sanctions which froze bank accounts held by the North in the Chinese island territory of Macau held up progress on disarmament for months.
The North finally agreed to take action after it got its money back and after South Korea delivered 6,200 tons of fuel oil, the first part of a total of 50,000 tons promised in compensation for the reactor closure.
The oil shipment arrived Saturday -- along with IAEA inspectors.
The unification ministry, which handles relations with the North, said a second shipment of 7,500 tons left early Monday.
"For once I think we can talk (in Beijing) about next steps, not the last steps," Hill told Lee.
The US envoy later met his South Korean counterpart Chun Yung-Woo to prepare for a new round in Beijing starting Wednesday of the forum grouping North and South Korea, the United States, Japan, China and Russia.
Hill was to meet his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye-Gwan on Tuesday in Beijing.
The US negotiator, who is seeking the permanent disablement of the North's nuclear programmes by the end of 2007, said Washington was "certainly prepared to do everything we need to do to make it happen."
But he told reporters: "I certainly have to anticipate there will be problems because I never expected it would take until July to get this first step done."
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 and the North must also account for an alleged covert highly enriched uranium (HEU) programme.
"Full denuclearisation needs to be full," Hill told reporters after talks with Chun, but he expressed confidence the HEU issue would be settled.
"I think we are going to dig it out in a way to resolve it," he said.
The shutdown is the first time that Yongbyon has been closed as a political act since a previous disarmament deal collapsed in late 2002.
Washington envisages diplomatic relations being restored and a formal peace pact if the North fulfils all its commitments.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon welcomed Yongbyon's shutdown, which a US government spokesman said would enhance the chances of a first ministerial meeting among the six nations negotiating the end of North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.
Despite such optimism, international ratings agency Standard and Poors said the peninsula's geopolitical risk levels and its sovereign credit ratings for South Korea remained unchanged.
"If we assume the single most important policy objective of North Korea's regime is its own survival, it is difficult to imagine the leader(s) of North Korea would give up their nuclear capabilities entirely in exchange for economic benefits," the agency said in a statement.
Source: Agence France-Presse
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North Korea Confirms Reactor Shutdown
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.
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