Accord in North Korea Talks
Sunday, July 13, 2008
BEIJING, July 12 -- Diplomats from six nations agreed in principle Saturday to set up an intrusive inspection program to verify that North Korea has dismantled its plutonium-based program to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons.
After three days of talks in Beijing, however, the negotiators were unable to complete a detailed inspection schedule and decided to refer specific issues back to their capitals in hopes of working out an itemized inspection regime in September, according to the chief U.S. negotiator, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill.
"All this kind of stuff requires a lot of scrutiny," Hill said.
The limited progress -- agreement in principle but still bogged down in details -- was typical of the tortuous path followed during the past five years of Chinese-sponsored six-party negotiations designed to eliminate North Korea's nuclear weapons program. It left in suspension such key questions as when North Korea will, as it has pledged several times, reveal whether it has any completed nuclear weapons and where they are stored.
The slow pace increased the probability that the Bush administration will come to an end before resolution of one of its main foreign policy goals, ridding North Asia of the threat of nuclear weapons under the command of Kim Jong Il, the unpredictable North Korean leader.
In addition, North Korea has yet to respond in detail to U.S. questions about whether it was seeking to produce material for nuclear weapons through a separate program based on highly enriched uranium and whether it cooperated with Syria in a nuclear development project that Israeli warplanes destroyed in September.
For the moment, China announced in a statement, North Korea has agreed to finish by October dismantling its Yongbyon nuclear reactor, the facility near Pyongyang where the plutonium-based program was carried out. Wu Dawei, a vice foreign minister who headed China's delegation to the talks, said the North Korean government also agreed that inspections to verify the dismantlement will include visits by experts, perusal of official documents and interviews with key scientists.
The other parties to the negotiations -- which include Japan and Russia in addition to China, the United States and the two Koreas -- agreed to make sure that promised fuel deliveries, amounting to the equivalent of 1 million tons, arrive in North Korean ports before the same deadline, he said.
The United States and Russia agreed to shoulder the main financial burden of providing the heavy fuel oil required by North Korea, the Chinese statement said. China and South Korea said they would combine for other kinds of economic aid, including equipment for the country's rickety electricity grid and transportation system, it added.
Despite its wealth, Japan has refused to provide aid until it receives an acceptable accounting of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korean intelligence in the 1970s and 1980s to train North Korean spies.
North Korea has said it refuses to move forward on revealing the full extent of its nuclear program, as promised in February 2007, until the fuel and other economic aid it was promised has been delivered. So far, only about 40 percent has been provided, the North Korean government said.