US Envoy: North Korea Could Disable Nuclear Reactor By End Of Year

Monday, June 25th 2007, 3:19 pm
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ North Korea's plutonium-producing nuclear reactor could be disabled by the end of the year, the top U.S. negotiator said Monday.

North Korea has announced it is moving forward with a delayed February agreement to shut down its Yongbyon reactor in exchange for aid. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, just back from a trip to North Korea, told reporters his visit was meant to ensure negotiators are clear on the important steps set to follow the shut down.

Those include a full declaration of North Korea's nuclear programs and the disabling of the North's reactor. Once the reactor is shut down, Hill said negotiators expect it to be made so it ``cannot be brought back online without an enormous repair bill.''

``We're really on the edge of all this,'' Hill told reporters. Negotiators still ``have a lot of work to do. But I think what we're working on right now is a very important step, which is to shut down the facility and prevent the production of additional plutonium.''

Hill also said officials hoped to have a meeting of the six nations involved in the nuclear talks during the second week of July. A meeting of foreign ministers from China, the United States, the Koreas, Japan and Russia could then follow, possibly set to coincide with the annual meeting of the ASEAN Regional Forum, Asia's largest security forum, August 2 in Manila.

``I can't say whether it's at the ASEAN regional forum or just before or just after, but some time in that time frame,'' Hill said.

The North said it would meet with U.N. monitors Tuesday on how to verify the long-delayed shutdown. The North also said a dispute over frozen bank funds that had held up disarmament efforts was now over.

Hill said the goal in 2008 was to tackle ``end game issues,'' including the North abandoning its nuclear fuel.

Officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency planned to spend five days in the North, mainly discussing how to verify that North Korea is taking its Yongbyon reactor off-line.