US strategists are exploring how to implement a peace accord to officially end the 1950 to 1953 Korean War and hope to start discussions with North Korea as soon as the end of the year, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday.
North Korea is expected to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor in the next few days in return for an aid shipment of 50,000 tonnes of fuel oil, a sign the Pyongyang government is moving ahead with its disarmament pledge, the Journal said on its online edition, citing senior US officials.
If the disarmament process proceeds, the Bush administration hopes to start discussing a formal peace treaty with Pyongyang by year-end, the journal said, citing Christopher Hill, the assistant secretary of state leading Washington's talks with North Korea.
Some officials in Washington hope the six-party talks over North Korea's nuclear program can evolve into a permanent forum for defusing security threats in Northeast Asia at a time when both Japan and China are bulking up militarily, the report said.
A truce has prevailed on the Korean peninsula since 1953. A formal peace treaty could coincide with the formation of a regional security body to resolve security disputes, along the lines of the ASEAN, the report said.
Washington officials stressed that pursuing broader regional security aims in Northeast Asia would be contingent upon North Korean leader Kim Jong-il's regime permanently dismantling its nuclear-arms programs, the Journal said.
Meanwhile, UN inspectors were hoping to return to North Korea in about a week to help Pyongyang dismantle its nuclear program and re-establish a presence that ended when they were expelled five years ago, diplomats said on Sunday.
The diplomats, speaking on the eve of a special meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) 35-state board that is expected to approve the mission, emphasized that the dates of return -- either Saturday or July 17 -- were tentative.
"They need to be confirmed by the North Koreans," said one of the diplomats, speaking by telephone from IAEA headquarters.
While approval was a virtual certainty, the question of funding -- of the North Korea mission and of the agency in general -- had still to be decided.
One diplomat said Washington "is prepared to pay quite a bit and we expect pledges from the floor" during the board meeting yesterday.
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