North Korea Nuclear Accord Advances

The Associated Press
Tuesday, February 13, 2007; 2:18 AM

BEIJING -- Six countries reached a tentative agreement Tuesday on initial steps toward North Korea's nuclear disarmament that could usher in the first concrete progress after more than three years of talks marked by delays, deadlock and the communist country's first nuclear test explosion.

The U.S. envoy to the talks, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, emerged in the early morning hours of Tuesday looking weary after a marathon 16-hour negotiating session and announced that a tentative deal had been struck at the latest round of six-party talks on the North's nuclear program.

The draft agreement contained commitments on disarmament and energy assistance along with "initial actions" to be taken by certain deadlines, Hill said. Working groups will be set up, hopefully in a month, laying out a framework for dealing with regional tensions, he added.

Later Tuesday, after a break of several hours, Hill said that the pact had U.S. government support. "Yes, we've approved it. To the best of my knowledge we've approved it," he told reporters.

Hill added that the North Koreans had seen the same text. The Chinese said the North Koreans "went over every word of it," he said.

North Korean delegates were speaking Tuesday to superiors in Pyongyang about the proposal and had not yet made their position known, a Japanese Foreign Ministry official said on condition of anonymity due to the ongoing talks.

The New York Times reported that the draft called for North Korea to complete the "permanent disablement" of its main nuclear facilities at Yongbyon within 60 days. The newspaper said the U.S., South Korea and China would provide aid under the deal.

The Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun said the North would receive aid worth 50,000 tons of heavy oil after international inspectors certify that it has shut down its one reactor. North Korea would get an additional 950,000 tons once it has completely disabled its nuclear facilities.

Left for later discussion would be what to do with the atomic weapons the North now is believed to possess _ a half-dozen or more by expert estimates. The deal also reportedly fails to address the uranium enrichment program that Washington accuses North Korea of having.

All six heads of delegations met again Tuesday morning, where they made some "suggestions of technical changes, but the draft was virtually concluded," a South Korean official said on condition of anonymity due to the ongoing process. A full session of negotiators was expected later Tuesday.

The agreement could herald the first step toward disarmament since the talks began in 2003. The process reached its lowest point in October when North Korea conducted its first nuclear test explosion, alarming the world and triggering U.N. sanctions.

The accord would also set up working groups expected to discuss issues including normalizing relations between countries and establishing a permanent peace settlement to replace the cease-fire that ended the Korean War in 1953.

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