South Korea's chief nuclear negotiator said yesterday that long-stalled talks on disarming North Korea's nuclear arsenal are to resume this month as Seoul prepared to ship a first batch of promised energy aid to the North next week.
Chun Yung-woo said the exact date of the talks would likely be announced next week.
"A meeting among the head delegates of the six-party talks will be held this month," Chun told reporters in Beijing following discussions with his Chinese counterpart, Wu Dawei (武大偉).
"No date has been determined. It looks like China, as the host country, will decide after listening to the other countries' opinions."
China is the host of the so-called six-nation forum, which also involves the two Koreas, Japan, Russia and the US. The last round of negotiations was held in Beijing in March.
Efforts to push the talks forward and implement a February agreement that committed the North to shutting down its main reactor in exchange for economic aid and political concessions was held up by a financial dispute between Pyongyang and Washington. The issue was resolved last week.
South Korea announced it would send the first shipment of energy assistance promised to North Korea on July 12 as a reward for shutting down and closing the Yongbyon reactor.
The North has yet to shutter the reactor. But, South Korean and US officials have said the aid delivery could still begin in an apparent display of confidence that the North would live up to its promise.
The shipment of 6,200 tonnes of heavy fuel oil from South Korea is part of a 50,000 tonne energy aid package promised to the North in the so-called initial phase of the February agreement.
The communist North is to ultimately get additional aid equivalent to 950,000 tonnes when it irreversibly disables its reactor and declares all its nuclear programs.
The first oil shipment will leave the South Korean port of Ulsan on next Thursday to the North's eastern Sunbong port, South Korea's Unification Ministry said in a statement.
South Korea "will do its best to complete [the shipment] by early August," the ministry said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is getting ready to approve plans on how to oversee the shutdown after its delegation's trip last week to the North, which included a visit to the Yongbyon facility.
That visit marked the first time UN nuclear inspectors had been inside the North since they were expelled in late 2002.
The agency is expected to complete its monitoring plans as early as Monday.
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