N. Korea Nuclear Talks Resume

By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, July 19, 2007

BEIJING, July 18 -- Buoyed by their first success, diplomats from six nations resumed talks on North Korean nuclear disarmament Wednesday, warning that a difficult road still lies ahead despite North Korea's closure of its main nuclear reactor.

The new round of Chinese-sponsored negotiations -- a two-day session grouping North and South Korea, Russia, Japan and the United States in addition to China -- was called to work out the timing of the next steps laid out in a landmark accord reached Feb. 13 in Beijing.

The first major step was taken Saturday when North Korea turned off its only working reactor, at Yongbyon, in return for an initial shipment of heavy fuel oil to power electrical generators.

North Korea has since shut down four related facilities, including a plant that extracted plutonium that could be used to construct bombs, said Mohamed El Baradei, head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency. Agency inspectors stationed at Yongbyon confirmed the closings, he said.

The next steps are to include permanent disabling of the now-closed reactor and revelation by North Korea of its entire nuclear research and weapons development program, the February accord stipulated. In return, it said, North Korea is to receive 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil or equivalent aid, and the United States, Japan and South Korea are to initiate moves toward better relations with the isolated communist state.

The chief U.S. negotiator, Christopher R. Hill, expressed hope that the second-phase goals could be met by the end of the year. "We've got a lot of work to do, a lot of catching up to do," he told reporters in Beijing.

Hill's timetable was endorsed by the chief South Korean negotiator, Chun Yung Woo, who told reporters that North Korea also had voiced willingness to meet the deadline. But he, Hill and the chief Japanese negotiator, Kenichiro Sasae, all warned that closing the Yongbyon reactor was only the first step and that moving on to the next steps would not be easy.

"This is just the beginning of denuclearization," Chun said.

North Korea pledged in the accord to ultimately surrender all its nuclear materials, including nuclear weapons, leading to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula and perhaps a new multilateral forum to promote regional security.

In return, the Bush administration has held out hope that North Korea will be taken off the list of states that sponsor terrorism, that it will receive substantial economic aid and that a peace treaty with the United States may be negotiated to mark a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War.

The diplomats' caution as they resumed work reflected the many disagreements that have repeatedly bogged down the four-year-old talks and raised questions whether North Korea is committed to giving up nuclear weapons. During one such delay last October, for instance, North Korea announced it had conducted an underground nuclear weapons test and henceforth should be considered a nuclear power.

In what could become another sticking point, Sasae told the Chinese hosts that Japan would contribute aid to North Korea and normalize relations only if progress was made on learning the fate of Japanese citizens kidnapped in past decades by North Korean security services, according to a Japanese diplomat who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

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