Saturday, June 30, 2007

N. Korea reactor closure date needs 6-way talks -IAEA

BEIJING (Reuters) - The date when North Korea shuts its nuclear reactor now rests on discussions between it and five other countries that signed a disarmament deal, a U.N. nuclear watchdog official said on Saturday after talks in Pyongyang.
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) official Olli Heinonen told reporters in Beijing his negotiations in North Korea had clarified how the IAEA will monitor the planned closing of the Yongbyon reactor.
"We have now reached an understanding on how we are going to monitor sealing and shutting down of the Yongbyon facility," IAEA Nuclear Safeguards Director Heinonen told reporters after arriving from Pyongyang after several days of meetings.
But he stressed the timing of the long-negotiated shutdown needed consultation between North Korea and other countries in six-party talks to iron out details.
"The next logical step is that they talk with each other and agree on technical arrangements. The IAEA doesn't have any role on that," Heinonen said.
"I think that they will take the shutdown as soon as they agree with their partners about the timing," he added later.
The six-party talks involving North and South Korea, the United States, Japan, Russia and host China struck a deal in February, under which Pyongyang would receive aid and security steps in return for moving to scrap its nuclear arms programmes.
But the IAEA, as the guardian of international nuclear safeguards, will monitor and verify the disarmament steps.
The deal was stalled for weeks by a dispute over some $25 million (12.44 million pounds) in North Korean funds frozen in a Macau bank under pressure from Washington.
Following the release of the funds, North Korea agreed to implement the deal.
Heinonen said he visited five "major facilities" at the Yongbyon complex, about 100 km (60 miles) from the capital -- the first trip there by an IAEA official since Pyongyang kicked out the Vienna-based agency in December 2002.
The working Yongbyon reactor produces plutonium, which can be processed for nuclear weapons.
A return by agency inspectors would probably involve "quite a few people" so closure could move quickly, Heinonen said.
After expelling nuclear inspectors, the communist state left the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, indicated it had atomic weapons and last year conducted its first nuclear test explosion.
Heinonen indicated his talks in North Korea did not cover its possible return to the IAEA and Non-Proliferation Treaty, saying those issues were "perhaps premature".
He said he would report to the IAEA board of governors, which must approve the agency's plans to return to North Korea.
Meanwhile in South Korea on Saturday, an official said the first shipment of rice aid to North Korea in two years had been sent to North Korea after it pledged to begin implementing the nuclear disarmament deal.
South Korea refused to give the aid last year after the North defied international warnings and test-fired a barrage of missiles in July and deepened tensions with its first nuclear test in October. The last shipment was sent in December 2005.
South Korea has said it was ready to provide the North with 400,000 tones of rice this year. The first shipment of 3,000 tonnes left the port of Gunsan bound for Nampo on the North's west coast, a port official said by telephone.
South Korea is in two-day talks with the North on a separate shipment of heavy fuel oil under the six-party deal.

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