The US' top nuclear envoy, Christopher Hill, said yesterday he expected North Korea to shut its nuclear reactor within days and submit a list of nuclear facilities within weeks.
The US understands the Yongbyon reactor will be shut down "this weekend, so I don't know whether it's Saturday, Sunday or Monday," Hill told reporters. "I do know it's very soon."
Hill is in Japan on a regional tour ahead of fresh six-nation talks in Beijing this week on ending North Korea's nuclear program.
His trip came amid hopes on disarming North Korea, with UN nuclear inspectors arriving yesterday to monitor and verify the shutdown of the main Yongbyon reactor, some 90km north of the capital, China's Xinhua news agency said in a dispatch from Pyongyang.
It is the first UN inspection visit to North Korea since 2002, and is part of a Feb. 13 deal under which Pyongyang agreed to scrap the program in exchange for aid and security guarantees.
"We have all the equipment with us" to begin inspections, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team, Adel Tolba, told reporters before leaving Beijing. "We will resume our role when we arrive."
The deal was held up by a financial dispute and Pyongyang said it would not budge until it received a first shipment of fuel oil as part of the deal. The shipment arrived in a North Korean port early yesterday.
The upcoming talks, set for Wednesday and Thursday, will discuss setting a schedule for the North to submit a list of nuclear programs in the next stage of the six-nation deal, Hill said.
"Declaration is one of the early next steps. We would expect a comprehensive list, [a] declaration, to be in a matter of several weeks, possibly a couple of months. We see it as coming before disabling of the facilities," he said.
"I also don't want people to think this shutdown is the biggest and only event," he said. "It's just the first step."
Hill also brushed aside a call on Friday by the North Korean army for direct talks with the US military.
"I think people need to understand that any peace process, peace mechanism, is one that would be done by directly related governments, not militaries," Hill said.
He said that North Korea could bring any "new thoughts on the peace process" to the upcoming talks.