North Korea to shut plutonium reactor in 3 weeks

Discussion in 'Politics & Religion' started by ZZZzzzzzzz, Jun 23, 2007.

  1. North Korea to shut plutonium reactor in 3 weeks
    Story Highlights
    • Agreement reached after surprise visit by U.S. envoy
    • Reactor was to have been closed in April, but separate dispute stalled plan
    • $25 million of frozen North Korean money has now been freed

    TOKYO, Japan (AP) -- Pyongyang and Washington have agreed on a three-week timeframe for shutting down the North's plutonium-producing reactor, a top U.S. nuclear envoy said Saturday after returning from a rare visit to the reclusive state.

    Christopher Hill -- the chief U.S. negotiator at international talks on North Korea's nuclear programs -- said they were looking at a three-week timeframe for shutting down the Yongbyon reactor, when asked by reporters on his arrival at Tokyo's Haneda Airport.

    "Yes, stay tuned," he said, adding that the timeframe started Friday. (Watch CNN interview with HillVideo)

    Hill, an assistant secretary of state, arrived in Tokyo Saturday to brief his Japanese counterpart on the outcome of his two-day surprise trip to the North Korean capital.

    The trip -- the first by a high-ranking U.S. official since October 2002 -- came amid growing optimism that North Korea may finally be ready to take concrete steps toward fulfilling a promise to dismantle its nuclear programs.

    Last week, the secretive state invited inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to begin discussions on the procedures for shutting down its Yongbyon reactor. The country expelled the U.N. nuclear inspectors in late 2002.

    The IAEA announced Friday that a delegation led by Olli Heinonen, a deputy director general of the IAEA, would travel to Pyongyang on Tuesday to prepare for the first inspection.

    Hill said he was happy the team was set to go, but cautioned that shutting the reactor was just a first step.

    "Shutting down the reactor won't solve all our problems, but in order to solve our problems we need to make this beginning," he said. "We really think this is the time to pick up the pace."

    North Korean officials told Hill during his visit that Pyongyang was prepared to shut down the Yongbyon facility as called for in the disarmament agreement reached in February, under which the North pledged to close the reactor and allow in U.N. inspectors in exchange for energy aid.

    Pyongyang was to have done that by mid-April, but missed the deadline over a delay in resolving a separate financial dispute involving North Korean funds frozen at a Macau bank.

    The bank was blacklisted by the U.S. for allegedly aiding North Korea in money laundering and counterfeiting, leading to the freezing of some $25 million (&euro18.6 million) of North Korean money.

    It was freed earlier this year, but it was only last week that it began to be transferred to a North Korean account at a Russian bank.

    Hill said earlier this week that North Korea had received the money, but told reporters on Friday the funds were "getting" to the accounts in Russia.

    Later Friday, Russia's deputy foreign minister said the funds will be fully transferred sometime next week.

    North Korea had made the money's release a main condition for its disarmament, and used the financial dispute as a reason to stay away from six-party nuclear talks -- involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the U.S. -- for more than a year, during which it conducted its first nuclear test explosion, in October.

    North Korea is to ultimately get aid worth 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil and other political concessions when it disables the reactor.

    Hill also said in Tokyo that the two sides discussed resuming six-party talks, adding that they could take place "in early July" depending on a "few factors." He did not elaborate.