Tue, Jul 17, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Reactor shutdown confirmed by IAEA

LANDMARK STEP The closure is the first on-the-ground achievement toward scaling back North Korea's nuclear ambitions since the international crisis erupted in 2002


UN inspectors have verified that North Korea has shut down its sole functioning nuclear reactor, the chief of the UN's watchdog agency said yesterday, confirming Pyongyang's first step to halt production of atomic weapons in nearly five years.

"Our inspectors are there. They verified the shutting down of the reactor yesterday," said Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

"The process has been going quite well and we have had good cooperation from North Korea. It's a good step in the right direction," ElBaradei said in Bangkok.

North Korea pledged in an international accord in February to shut the reactor at Yongbyon and dismantle its nuclear programs in return for oil and political concessions. However, it stalled for several months because of a separate, but now-resolved dispute with the US over frozen bank funds.

The shutdown over the weekend, confirmed by a 10-member team of IAEA inspectors who arrived in the North on Saturday, was the first on-the-ground achievement toward scaling back Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions since the crisis began in late 2002.

The Yongbyon reactor generates plutonium for atomic bombs. North Korea conducted its first nuclear test explosion last October.

South Korea yesterday sent the second of two initial shipments of oil to reward North Korea specifically for the reactor shutdown. The first arrived on Saturday, prompting North Korea to begin the shutdown of the Yongbyon reactor. The second shipment departed yesterday, South Korean Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung said.

The North's Foreign Ministry said on Sunday that further progress under the disarmament accord would now depend "on what practical measures the US and Japan, in particular, will take to roll back their hostile policies toward" North Korea.

North Korea is set to participate in a renewed session of nuclear negotiations this week in Beijing, along with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the US.

US Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill has said the negotiations would focus on a timeframe for how disarmament would proceed. He plans to meet his North Korean counterpart today ahead of the formal start of talks.

In an interview, Hill laid out an aggressive agenda of steps Washington hopes can be made in the reconciliation process as the North lays aside its nuclear weapons program.

"If North Korea wants to denuclearize, all of this stuff is very doable," Hill said.

A first step will be the North declaring a complete list of its nuclear programs to be dismantled. However, the North has yet to publicly admit to embarking on a uranium enrichment program -- which the US in 2002 alleged it had done to spark the nuclear crisis. Washington wants the facilities disabled by the end of the year so they cannot be easily restarted, Hill said.

Hill said the US would look at other incentives for the North.

"We have never had a quarrel with the North Korean people," he said. "We have wanted to help the North Korean people and will continue to look for options, look for ways which we can do that."

The US will also discuss starting the process to remove the North from a list of state sponsors of terrorism, Hill said. The designation rankles Pyongyang.

Officials cautioned the road ahead would be difficult.

"We cannot presume that North Korea will do everything if it is given oil," South Korean nuclear negotiator Chun Yung-woo said after meeting Hill.

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