North Korea shuts down reactor

Updated: 2007-07-15 20:54

A satellite image from DigitalGlobe taken on September 29, 2004 shows a nuclear facility in Yongbyon, North Korea. North Korea confirmed it has shut Yongbyon nuclear reactor, the nuclear reactor that provides the country with material to make weapons-grade plutonium. [Reuters]
Despite the lack of verification, the US diplomat said he was confident the shutdown had begun.

"I think we have every reason to believe they have started the shutdown," he said, adding that the complete process would take a few days to allow equipment to cool before IAEA seals could be applied.

Hill was touring the region ahead of resumed six-nation nuclear talks with North Korea starting Wednesday in Beijing. That session will focus on setting up a "work plan and a timeframe" for how disarmament would proceed, Hill said in Seoul, adding he planned to meet his North Korean counterpart Tuesday ahead of the formal start of talks.

Hill also said he hoped working groups set up under the talks process -- to discuss details of the North Korea's disarmament and on normalizing its relations with the US and Japan -- could resume meeting by the end of August.

"If we don't take these steps a little more quickly than we've taken that first step, then we're going to fall way behind again," Hill said.

South Korea's nuclear envoy Chun Yung-woo called North Korea's shutdown a "milestone" and said the resumed nuclear negotiations would be held "in a better atmosphere than ever before." The talks last met in March.

Still, Chun stressed "the next phase will be more difficult than the reactor shutdown."

The oil that the North received Saturday via a South Korean ship was an initial 6,200 tons of a total 50,000 tons as a reward for the reactor shutdown. Under a February agreement at the arms talks, Pyongyang will receive a total equivalent of 1 million tons of oil for dismantling its nuclear programs.

North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and restarted its reactor in early 2003, after Washington accused it of a secret uranium enrichment program in violation of an earlier disarmament deal and halted oil deliveries.

International negotiations on the issue have snagged on a variety of issues, including the North's anger over comments by US officials about its government and financial restrictions placed on a bank where North Korea held accounts.

Moves to resolve the standoff gained momentum in the wake of North Korea's underground test nuclear explosion in October, after which the US took steps to reverse its previous hard-line policy and accommodate North Korean demands.


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