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All Headlines 10:39 July 17, 2008

*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 1)

Six Parties Agree on Disablement of North Korea's Reactor by October

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- After a nine-month hiatus, members of the six-party talks gathered in Beijing last week to negotiate the completion of the current phase of North Korea's denuclearization process. At the end of the three-day talks on July 12, North Korea agreed on a timetable to complete the ongoing disabling of its principal nuclear facilities by the end of October, and accepted general principles for verifying its recent nuclear declaration.

A six-point statement issued at the end of the disarmament talks said that North Korea will complete disabling its Yongbyon nuclear facility by October, while the United States, South Korea and three other regional players will complete shipments of promised energy aid to Pyongyang by that month. But the members failed to nail down the particulars, such as the scope and subjects of the verification, with the specifics deferred to working-level discussions.

The six nations, including China, Russia and Japan, also agreed to establish a system to check the veracity of the North's recent declaration of its plutonium-producing activity, as required under an aid-for-denuclearization accord reached last year. "The verification measures of the verification mechanism include visits to facilities, review of documents, interviews with technical personnel and other measures unanimously agreed upon among the six parties," it said. "When necessary, the verification mechanism can welcome the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to provide consultants and assistance for relevant verification."

Details will be decided in a meeting of the working group on denuclearization, to be held later, it added. Initially, lower-level officials were expected to continue discussions on technical issues related to verification, but the six nations decided to hold the working-group meeting next time.

The July 12 agreement lacks detailed measures on verification, but the top U.S. envoy, Christopher Hill, said the process should start before Aug. 11, when the U.S. is set to remove Pyongyang from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. "We'd like a protocol to be reached within 45 days and secondly, to actually begin the verification within 45 days," Hill told reporters. The 45-day U.S. delisting of North Korea is closely linked to the verification of the communist country's declaration of its nuclear program and its past history of plutonium production.

In addition, the negotiators agreed to establish two sets of mechanisms -- one on verifying plutonium-based programs, and the other on monitoring uranium-enrichment program and proliferation. The agreement, albeit only conceptual, shows the continued commitment of all the states engaged in the talks. Under the agreement, all six parties will participate in the verification process.

For now, it is uncertain whether the six parties will be able to produce a concrete plan for verification in 45 days, given the sensitivity and complexity of the issue. Hill earlier said, "The devil is in the details." South Korea's chief delegate agreed that a rough road lies ahead, despite the compromise. "I am not optimistic about what will happen next," Kim said in a separate press briefing.

The Choson Sinbo, a pro-North Korean newspaper published in Japan, reported on July 13 that North Korean delegates reiterated the need for the denuclearization of the whole Korean Peninsula. The paper said the North Koreans insisted on the verification of the denuclearization process, which will basically remove all threat of nuclear war on and surrounding the peninsula.

It continued that the verification should be carried out on a reciprocal basis, adding, "Verification, along with the disabling of the nuclear facilities and nuclear declaration, is part of the process of abandoning the entire existing nuclear program." North Korea, the paper said, will implement its denuclearization pledge in stages in parallel with Washington's move to shift its hostile policy toward Pyongyang and remove its military threats, it added.

In fact, the envisioned verification regime in the latest six-nation agreement is aimed at verifying "the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula" -- not just North Korea.

In a series of agreements reached last year, North Korea agreed to disable its main nuclear facilities in exchange for shipments of energy aid equivalent to 1 million tons of fuel oil. North Korea says that it has disabled 80 percent of its Yongbyon facilities, but has received only 40 percent of the promised energy aid.

North Korea has openly warned that it will not move to the next stage of dismantlement unless it gets all the energy aid that the other parties promised. The unfulfilled portion of the North Korean disablement involves unused nuclear fuel rods and about 8,000 spent rods removed from its only operational 5-megawatt nuclear reactor.

The most contentious point for future discussion will be the subject of verification, observers said. It remains to be seen whether North Korea will agree to include a liquid nuclear waste storage facility. Sources said North Korea declared around 20 facilities in its declaration submitted on June 26 -- four more than its declaration from the 1990s. It is the position of the U.S. and others that verifying the liquid waste storage area is critical to accurately calculating the exact amount of produced and extracted plutonium.

Another point of contention is Japan's participation in the provision of energy to North Korea. Japan said it will not join the other countries in fuel aid until Pyongyang agrees to reinvestigate the issue of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.

North Korea and Japan reportedly did not hold any bilateral meetings during the three-day talks. If they continue to fail to find a solution, South Korea and the U.S. may volunteer to give Japan's share.

So far, the U.S. has offered 134,000 tons of fuel, China has given the equivalent of about 137,000 tons, South Korea has sent 115,000 tons and Russia has pitched in with 100,000 tons.

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