North Korea is expected to hand over a list of its nuclear programs within weeks, a US envoy said yesterday, as the communist state prepares disable its plutonium-producing atomic plants.
US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher Hill said a US expert team who arrived on Thursday in North Korea was to travel to the main nuclear complex at Yongbyon later yesterday or today to prepare to supervise the disabling of three main plants there next week.
Under a February six-nation accord the North, which carried out its first nuclear test in October last year, has pledged to declare and disable all its atomic programs by year-end in return for energy aid worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
If it goes on next year to dismantle the plants and give up its plutonium and weapons, it can expect normalized relations with Washington as well as a peace pact to replace the armistice which ended the 1950-1953 Korean War.
"We're expecting the first draft declaration ... probably in a matter of the next couple of weeks," said Hill, the US Assistant Secretary of State who has been Washington's chief envoy to the six-nation talks.
"The idea is that as we receive that, we have some information on programs we would want to have follow-on discussions on, with the understanding that by the end of the year we will have a complete declaration that everyone would agree is complete."
Hill was speaking in Seoul after talks with his South Korean counterpart Chun Young-woo.
Hill said a peace treaty, and the lifting of UN nuclear-related sanctions, would come only after North Korea completely abandons its nuclear weapons and related programs.
"The sanctions are there until the DPRK [North Korea] gets out of the nuclear business," he said.
While negotiations on a pact could begin after "substantial disablement," Hill warned: "We cannot conclude a peace process until the time that there is really a denuclearization. We are not going to have a peace agreement with a nuclearized DPRK."
The South and North Korean leaders, after a rare summit last month, called for the leaders of countries which fought the war to meet and declare an end to the war.
The declaration sparked accusations from critics that the Seoul government is moving too fast to make peace.
The February accord also envisages the North being removed eventually from the US list of state sponsors of terrorism.
"What we look forward to in getting North Korea off the terrorism list is that they have stopped all terrorism acts and fully signed up to UN covenants against terrorism," the US envoy said.
North Korea, which spent half a century developing its nuclear program, shut the Yongbyon plants in July. Disablement aims to put them out of action for up to a year.
After a 1994 denuclearization pact fell apart in 2002, the North quickly resumed production of bomb-making plutonium, and now has an estimated 45kg to 65kg of the material, enough to build several bombs.
Hill said China is trying to schedule a meeting of foreign ministers of the six nations involved in the talks -- the two Koreas, the US, Japan, China and Russia -- hopefully by the end of the year.
The US envoy was briefing Chun on his earlier talks in Beijing, including a meeting with his North Korean counterpart.
He was to leave for Japan later yesterday.