North Korea agreed today to completely disable its main nuclear facilities by the end of October as the latest round of six-nation disarmament talks concluded in Beijing. In return for Pyongyang dismantling its Yongbyon reactor, the other five parties guaranteed delivery of all heavy fuel oil promised in exchange by the end of the same month, a joint communique said. North Korea "will work to complete the disablement of the Yongbyon nuclear facilities by the end of October 2008," the statement said.
The head of the Chinese delegation, Wu Dawei, read out the broad details of how the parties will verify that North Korea keeps it word. The parties also agreed to a verification mechanism that would include experts from the six nations visiting facilities, reviewing documents and interviewing technical personnel, Mr Wu said. He added the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, could also be asked to assist in verification if necessary.
The US nuclear envoy Christopher Hill said the technical details of the verification process were yet to be decided, but that Washington hoped it would be finalised by the end of next month. "We'd like a protocol to be reached within 45 days and secondly to actually begin the verification within 45 days," Mr Hill told reporters. "We're anticipating that and don't see any obstacles." The talks, which restarted on Thursday after a nine-month hiatus focused on reaching agreement on how to verify the declaration North Korea delivered last month on abandoning its nuclear programmes.
The six-nation talks - which involve China as host, the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia - began in 2003 with the aim of persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear programmes. But they had not been held since October, as the other parties involved waited for North Korea to give an account of the nuclear programmes it had spent decades developing. The declaration was a key part of the six-nation disarmament accord reached last year, under which the North agreed to abandon its nuclear programmes in exchange for an array of diplomatic incentives and economic aid.
The progress came as South Korea's new conservative president Lee Myung-Bak offered North Korea an olive branch Friday after months of hostility, proposing talks on ways to implement summit agreements reached by his predecessors. The North shut down its Yongbyon reactor - which produced the material for the nation's historic atom bomb test in 2006 - in July last year and has continued to disable it in stages.
The third and final phase of the disarmament deal calls for the North to permanently dismantle its atomic plants and hand over all nuclear material and weaponry. In return, it would get more energy aid, restored diplomatic ties with the United States and Japan, and a formal peace treaty to officially end the 1950-1953 Korean War. *AFP