North Korea Says They’ll Disable Reactor If U.S. Lifts Sanctions

Sunday, July 15th 2007, 7:29 pm
By: News On 6

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ North Korea said Sunday it is ready to permanently disable the nuclear reactor it just turned off if the United States lifts economic sanctions on the impoverished nation and strikes it from a list of terrorism sponsors.

Kim Myong Gil, minister at the North's United Nations mission in New York, said the country had shut down its only operating nuclear reactor after the arrival of promised fuel aid over the weekend. U.S. and South Korean officials said they were confident the North had halted operations at the Yongbyon reactor. Officials from the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said they could not confirm the shutdown.

Kim said his government would only disclose the full extent of the country's nuclear program and disable the reactor if Washington takes actions ``in parallel.''

``We will discuss about the economic sanctions lifting and removing of the terrorism list. All those things should be discussed and resolved,'' Kim told The Associated Press by telephone.

The North's Foreign Ministry said progress on disarmament would depend on ``on what practical measures the U.S. and Japan, in particular, will take to roll back their hostile policies toward'' North Korea. The North wants normal relations with the U.S. and Japan.

North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and restarted its reactor in early 2003 after Washington accused it of running a secret uranium enrichment program in violation of an earlier disarmament deal and halted oil deliveries.

The North is required to declare all its nuclear programs and materials but has never publicly admitted running a uranium enrichment program, which can be used to produce nuclear weapons.

The aid and shutdown were the first steps under the six-party deal struck by the U.S., North and South Korea, Japan, China and Russia in February.

The oil the North received Saturday via a South Korean ship was an initial 6,200 tons of a total 50,000 tons as a reward for the shutdown. Under the February agreement, the North will receive a total equivalent of 1 million tons of oil for dismantling its nuclear programs and making a full declaration of its nuclear activities. The U.S. would also move toward removing the country from the list of terrorist sponsors, and of nations under economic sanctions.

Implementation of the deal was delayed by a dispute over North Korean funds that were frozen in a Macau bank that Washington had blacklisted for allegedly helping the regime launder money. The funds were freed, and progress on the disarmament accord followed.

The chief U.S. negotiator with North Korea said all sides now needed to move quickly in order to avoid the months of wrangling that slowed completion of the first steps.

``If we don't take these steps a little more quickly than we've taken that first step, then we're going to fall way behind again,'' Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said.

North Korea informed the U.S. on Saturday that the reactor at Yongbyon, about 60 miles north of the capital, had been shut down. A 10-member IAEA team arrived Saturday to make sure the reactor was switched off.

The shutdown was the first step by the North to scale back its weapons program since the start of the nuclear crisis in late 2002 when IAEA inspectors were expelled from the country.

Hill said it could take the IAEA at least a day to verify the shutdown because there were five sites within the North's nuclear complex to inspect, including the reactor. The complete process could take a few days to allow equipment to cool before IAEA seals can be applied.

Hill said the disabling of the North's nuclear facilities could be completed by the end of the year, and he expects a complete declaration of its atomic programs within months.

The U.S. eased its hard-line policy and accommodated some North Korean demands after the communist country conducted an underground nuclear test explosion in October.

U.S. national security adviser Stephen Hadley told ``Fox News Sunday'' that the North Korean reactor appears to be shut down.

If it is, ``we will then pursue to work through toward disabling, ultimately dismantling that program, getting a full accounting of what they've been doing with any covert enrichment program,'' he said.

Japan said it was ready to discuss outstanding issues with North Korea, but stressed the regime had already delayed implementing the February agreement.

``The North is already running late on the agreement, and we urge them to carry through with the steps immediately,'' said Nori Shikata, assistant press secretary for Japan's Foreign Ministry.

South Korea's nuclear envoy Chun Yung-woo called the North's reported shutdown a ``milestone'' and told the AP the six-party nuclear negotiations would be resumed soon ``in a better atmosphere than ever before.''

``The next phase will be more difficult than the reactor shutdown,'' Chun said.