The United States is looking to build on momentum
created by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) shutting down its
nuclear reactor and will start deliberations on removing it from a list of
terrorism-sponsoring states, the main US envoy on the issue said yesterday.
In an interview, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill laid out a
busy agenda for steps Washington hopes can be made in the reconciliation process
as Pyongyang lays aside its nuclear weapons program. That would include talks on
ending the 54-year-old cease-fire that halted the Korean War, as well as setting
up a regional security forum in Northeast Asia.
"If North Korea (DPRK) wants to denuclearize, all of this stuff is very
doable," Hill said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed yesterday that the
North had shut down its sole functioning nuclear reactor at Yongbyon as it said
it had done on Saturday, the first tangible progress from years of arms
negotiations involving the US and other regional powers.
"Our inspectors are there. They verified the shutting down of the reactor
yesterday," IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei said in Bangkok ahead of an event
sponsored by Thailand's Science Ministry. "The process has been going quite well
and we have had good cooperation from North Korea. It's a good step in the right
The next moves come this week as Hill was set to travel today to Beijing for
consultations with the countries involved in the nuclear negotiations: China,
Japan, Russia and the two Koreas. Diplomats are to discuss a timeframe for more
progress, and Hill said he hoped that Pyongyang's nuclear facilities would be
disabled - meaning rendered unable to be restarted - by the end of the year.
Negotiators also will discuss scheduling a meeting as soon as next month
between foreign ministers of all six nations, likely also in Beijing ahead of an
Asian-Pacific summit in Australia in early September.
He said the ministers' aim would be to issue a statement laying out the
vision for a northeast Asian forum "where it can deal with the problems of
trying to make this a better neighborhood."
Hill has frequently spoken of his aspiration that the six-nation talks could
lead to a more lasting security regime in the region where countries have
clashed over territorial, historical and military disputes.
Meeting a key DPRK demand, the United States is willing to start the process
of removing the North from a list of state sponsors of terrorism, Hill said.
"We'll see when we can complete that because we'll see how far the North Koreans
are prepared to move on denuclearization," he said.
The designation rankles the North and it has called for it to be lifted along
with other economic sanctions before it moves ahead on disarmament. The DPRK
government has not been directly tied to any terrorist action since it planted a
bomb on a South Korean plane in 1987.
Hill said talks on replacing the Korean War ceasefire with a peace regime
that would formally end the conflict could start next year "with understanding
that we can't complete that until we complete denuclearization."
The United States fought with the South in the 1950-53 conflict that ended in
an armistice, leaving the sides still technically at war.
Alongside the total 1 million tons of oil the North is to receive for
disabling its nuclear programs, Hill said Washington would look at other
incentives such as humanitarian aid.