U.S. Nuclear Envoy Says Nuclear Disablement In North Korea Is 'Going Well'

Wednesday, December 5th 2007, 9:05 am
By: News On 6

BEIJING (AP) _ North Korea's efforts to disable its plutonium-producing reactor by year's end are going as scheduled, the top U.S. nuclear envoy said Wednesday, but work needs to continue if deadlines are to be met.

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill spent two days in Pyongyang and visited the Yongbyon nuclear complex, becoming the highest-level American official to go there.

``The disablement activities are going well and on schedule,'' Hill said before leaving Pyongyang and heading to Beijing. ``I'm satisfied with the results.''

``But,'' he said, ``we have to keep working because we have more to do to meet our deadlines.''

Pyongyang had promised to complete the dismantling by the end of the year, but South Korean nuclear envoy Chun Yung-woo said last week it would take longer to remove about 8,000 spent fuel rods from the reactor.

The disablement, which will make the reactor difficult to restart, is the biggest step the communist nation has taken to scale back its nuclear programs since 2003, when six-nation negotiations aimed at ending the North's nuclear ambitions began. Participants include the two Koreas, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia.

After his arrival in Beijing, however, Hill said he hoped the disablement would be finished on time.

``We're not looking for some sort of cliffhanger. ... What we want to see is that this is going on as quickly as possible and we are very much convinced that that is the case,'' he said.

Hill said the end of December goal should be met even though there were some issues to be resolved. He did not give any details, adding that ``the atmosphere was very cooperative.''

Pyongyang is also required to declare all its nuclear programs by year's end. That declaration will serve as a map of all North Korea's nuclear programs, which Washington hopes can be dismantled by the end of 2008.

``It is important that the declaration, even as a first draft, should be complete and correct,'' Hill said.

Pyongyang defiantly conducted its first nuclear test in October 2006, prompting international condemnation and sanctions. Experts estimate the North has enough weapons-grade plutonium to make about a dozen bombs.

North Korea began disabling the reactor, which was shut down in July, and two other facilities last month under the watch of U.S. experts.

Hill went to the North once before in June, becoming the first high-level U.S. official to visit the secretive country in more than four years.