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US Envoy Christopher Hill Upbeat About Six Party Talks But Others Cautious

IAEA mum on further NKorean nuclear shutdowns
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head Mohamed ElBaradei was tight-lipped Tuesday over whether North Korea had shut down nuclear facilities beyond its key Yongbyon reactor. When asked upon his arrival in Malaysia whether four other facilities had been shut down, the head of the UN nuclear watchdog replied: "We're in the process," leaving his sentence unfinished. "I'll talk to you tomorrow morning," he added.

ElBaradei, who was to meet Malaysia's Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak later Tuesday, has scheduled a press conference for Wednesday morning. The IAEA chief confirmed on Monday during a visit to Bangkok that his inspectors had verified the shutting down of North Korea's nuclear reactor and were "working to verify the shutdown of the other four facilities." He said the IAEA team hoped to check on those four installations by Wednesday, the day that six-party talks on the North's nuclear programmes are set to resume in Beijing.

The reactor shutdown is the North's first step since 2002 towards ending its nuclear programme, which culminated in an atomic bomb test last October, and the first phase of a six-nation disarmament deal reached in February. The United States, South Korea and Japan -- parties to the six-nation talks with the North, China and Russia -- have expressed caution over the shutdown, saying it did not mean Pyongyang would easily give up its nuclear weapons.

by Benjamin Morgan and Jun Kwanwoo
Beijing (AFP) Jul 18, 2007
Top US nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill said Tuesday that no major obstacles currently impeded the drive to disarm North Korea of its nuclear weapons programme after meeting the communist state's chief envoy. Hill held a series of bilateral meetings with North Korea's Kim Kye-Gwan ahead of a new round of six-nation talks, due Wednesday, on the denuclearisation drive.

"I think we're all in the same ball park," Hill said after the meetings in Beijing.

"I tried to advance the ideas we need on an overall time frame for the second phase (of denuclearisation) ... we had a good discussion, at this point there are no show stoppers."

The planned resumption of the disarmament talks comes after North Korea closed its Yongbyon nuclear reactor on Saturday, the first step it was required to take under a six-nation disarmament accord brokered in February.

But two other member nations of the forum, South Korea and Japan, cautioned that recent positive developments did not mean the North was prepared to easily give up the weapons it has spent decades developing.

Before flying into Beijing, Kim said he was willing to talk about the next steps in implementing the accord.

"The first phase has been accomplished," China's official Xinhua news agency quoted Kim as saying in Pyongyang, referring to the closure of Yongbyon.

"So the talks will focus on the sequence of the obligations and actions to be taken by the concerned parties in the second phase."

Hill and Kim met briefly at the US embassy on Tuesday, then had lunch together at a Chinese restaurant, but both indicated their discussions did not delve deeply into the nuclear issue.

The February accord states that North Korea will eventually completely abandon all its nuclear programmes in return for energy aid, diplomatic concessions and security guarantees.

However, Hill and others involved in the process have repeatedly stressed that many big hurdles still need to be overcome before North Korea scraps its weapons programme.

"The journey to denuclearisation is just at the beginning," South Korean envoy Chun Yung-Woo said after arriving in Beijing on Tuesday.

"A very difficult and steep road lies ahead. We need to assure North Korea that a bright world will be at the end of that steep road."

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso also told reporters in Tokyo he expected North Korea to make fresh demands that would complicate the disarmament process.

The six-party talks began in 2003 with the aim of convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear programmes, and assumed a fresh sense of urgency after the Stalinist state carried out its first atomic bomb test in October last year.

Under the February accord, North Korea said it would close Yongbyon and allow inspectors from the UN nuclear watchdog back into the country in return for 50,000 tons of fuel oil.

The first shipments of oil arrived from South Korea on Saturday, and the North immediately closed the reactor. The UN inspectors also returned to North Korea on Saturday and confirmed Yongbyon had been shut down.

North Korea will eventually receive another 950,000 tons of fuel oil or equivalent aid if it admits to all its nuclear programmes and permanently ends them.

One of the major sticking points is that the United States and others say that North Korea has been secretly operating a highly enriched uranium programme in parallel with its plutonium-making facility at Yongbyon.

Both highly enriched uranium and plutonium can be used to make nuclear bombs.

North Korea has never admitted to making the highly enriched uranium.

Nevertheless, the closing of Yongbyon has been widely welcomed around the world, including by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and China, which is the North's closest ally and the permanent host of the six-nation talks.

The US State Department said on Monday that the closure of Yongbyon had brightened prospects for a first-ever ministerial meeting of the six nations, a step up from the envoy level that is currently employed.

But no date has been set for the ministerial-level talks.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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UN Agency Confirms North Korea Reactor Shutdown
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."

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