US nuclear experts visit North Korea

Updated: 2007-09-11 21:40

SEOUL, South Korea - American, Russian and Chinese nuclear experts began a rare visit to North Korea on Tuesday to examine ways of disabling the country's main nuclear facilities so they can no longer produce bombs.

Sung Kim, second right, chief of the U.S. delegation, meets with his South Korean counterpart, Lim Sung-nam, second left, at a hotel in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Sept. 10, 2007. [AP]

The seven-member US delegation crossed into the North by land from the border village of Panmunjom, said David Oten, spokesman for the US military in South Korea.

Nuclear experts from China and Russia arrived by air in the North to participate in the joint survey, broadcaster APTN reported from Pyongyang.

During a five-day visit, the three-nation team plans to visit North Korea's main nuclear complex at Yongbyon, 60 miles north of Pyongyang, to determine how to disable facilities there under a February international accord.

The North has already shut down the country's sole functioning nuclear reactor at Yongbyon under the deal that also calls for the government to disclose all its nuclear programs and disable its facilities in exchange for economic aid and political concessions.

In recent bilateral talks with the US, the North promised to complete the disablement by year's end.

The North's invitation of outside nuclear experts - the first since July when UN nuclear inspectors verified the shutdown of the Yongbyon reactor - is considered a strong indication the country is serious about following through with its denuclearization commitments.

On Monday, the head of the US delegation, State Department official Sung Kim, discussed the trip with South Korea's deputy nuclear negotiator Lim Sung-nam.

The two sides agreed "the steps for disablement should be implemented in an effective and speedy manner," Lim told reporters.

Lim said the trip would not result in an agreement on how to disable the facilities, as the experts were only there to survey the sites and get an idea of what needed to be done to dismantle them.

The experts would deliver their findings at the next round of six-nation talks, when an agreement on disabling the facilities was likely, he said.

The six nations - the two Koreas, the US, Japan, Russia and China - agreed at their last meeting in July to meet again in September.

The February deal came after more than three years of on-again, off-again negotiations during which North Korea conducted its first-ever nuclear test detonation in October.

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