Thu, Jul 19, 2007 - Page 5 News List

UN confirms reactor shutdowns

JUST IN TIME The International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors confirmed the plant shutdowns just as six-party talks were to resume on North Korea disarmament


North Korea has shut down all the facilities at its main nuclear reactor site, the UN atomic watchdog said yesterday, shortly before crucial talks on the next phase of disarmament began in Beijing.

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei said his inspectors had confirmed that four other plutonium-related sites had been closed, following Saturday's shutdown of North Korea's main Yongbyon reactor.

"We have verified that all five nuclear facilities have been shut down," ElBaradei told reporters in Malaysia.

Their closure was the first step in a six-nation accord brokered in February that would see North Korea eventually abandon its nuclear weapons program in return for a range of economic, diplomatic and security incentives.

With Yongbyon and the other four nearby facilities shut down, six-nation envoys said this week's talks should focus on convincing North Korea to declare all of its nuclear programs and then disable them.

The envoys -- from China, the two Koreas, the US, Russia and Japan -- held a series of bilateral meetings yesterday morning, before moving into the official group discussions in the early afternoon.

US envoy Christopher Hill told reporters that he hoped North Korea would complete the declare-and-disband phase, in line with the second series of obligations under the Feb. 13 accord, within the next five months.

"We want to get the phase two things done more or less by the end of this year," Hill said yesterday ahead of the opening of the two-day talks.

After extensive meetings with his North Korean counterpart, Kim Kye-gwan, in Beijing on Tuesday, Hill said he believed substantial progress could be made this week.

"I think we're all in the same ball park," he said. "At this point there are no show-stoppers."

South Korean envoy Chun Yung-woo also told reporters that the North should declare and disable its nuclear programs by the end of this year.

But Hill and the other envoys have acknowledged that many major obstacles must be overcome before North Korea gets to that stage.

The six-party talks began in 2003 with the aim of convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions, but Pyongyang went on to conduct its first atomic bomb test in October last year.

ElBaradei also voiced caution yesterday about the problems that await, as he called on North Korea to be more transparent in the disarmament process.

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