The US has endorsed a plan for the dismantling of North Korea's nuclear facilities by the end of the year, US officials said on Tuesday.
Negotiators reached agreement on a draft in Beijing on Sunday after four days of six-nation talks, but said at the time that they needed final approval from their bosses in Moscow, Washington, Seoul, Tokyo, Beijing and Pyongyang. The draft sets out a timetable for North Korea to disclose all its nuclear programs and disable all facilities in return for 950,000 metric tonnes of fuel oil or its equivalent in economic aid.
Under an agreement reached in February, North Korea shut down its plutonium-producing reactor at Yongbyon, for which it has begun to receive shipments of 50,000 tonnes of fuel oil.
Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs and the lead US negotiator, had breakfast on Tuesday with his two bosses -- US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and US President George W. Bush -- to brief them on progress so far, said Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman.
"We have conveyed to the Chinese government our approval for the draft statement," McCormack said. "All the parties went back to their capitals. We studied it, examined it, gave our approval to the Chinese."
The other five parties to the talks -- Russia, China, South Korea, Japan and North Korea -- have yet to publicly discuss their views. But Hill said on Tuesday, "I believe the other parties are ready to sign on."
He said that he has been in contact with several of the other negotiators.
The prospect of progress in the disarmament talks comes as the leaders of North and South Korea began a three-day summit meeting Tuesday in Pyongyang, the North's capital, only the second such meeting between the states since the Korean peninsula was divided in 1945.
During a briefing with reporters on Tuesday, Hill declined to provide details of the draft agreement, but he said he expected China to release a statement in the next "day or two" on behalf of all six countries that are participating in the talks. A senior administration official said that as part of the agreement, North Korea will make a full declaration of all nuclear programs by the end of the year and will complete the disabling of the Yongbyon facility.
"They have shut it down," the official said, "but disabling means taking it apart."
North Korea has also been seeking a joint statement that would include a written reference to being removed from a US list of countries that sponsor terrorism. The official said that "we've agreed on a way forward on that," but declined to elaborate further.
The official asked that his name not be used because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue. A second senior administration official said that the US has told North Korea that one of the things it must disclose are details of whatever nuclear material it has been supplying to Syria. US and Israeli officials have indicated that a recent Israeli airstrike in Syria was directed at nuclear material supplied by North Korea.
If the North Koreans meet the schedule and disable their equipment, it would be a major victory for the Bush administration at a time when it is eager to claim progress on some diplomatic front to offset its problems in Iraq. Whether to offer North Korea rewards, including oil and, eventually, removal from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and diplomatic recognition, has been the subject of a six-year struggle within the Bush administration. That struggle was largely won by Hill and Rice in February when Bush signed off on the initial nuclear agreement with North Korea.
Most national security hawks inside and outside of the administration still oppose the pact. Rice, however, has given Hill considerable latitude to strike a deal, including permission to meet directly with the North Koreans outside of the so-called "six-party talks."
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