Nuclear expert: North Korea says it will freeze reactor for electricity commitments

Tuesday, February 6th 2007, 8:04 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ North Korea is proposing to shutter its main nuclear reactor and allow U.N. monitoring in return for massive energy shipments and normal relations with the United States, according to an American nuclear expert who visited Pyongyang last week.

David Albright, a former U.N. nuclear inspector, said in an interview Tuesday that North Korean officials told him they also wanted another key concession for shutting down their Yongbyon reactor: the lifting of U.S. financial restrictions imposed for alleged North Korean counterfeiting of U.S. currency and money laundering. Those restrictions have led to about $24 million in North Korean funds being frozen at a Macau bank.

North Korea, the United States, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia are set to begin a new round of talks Thursday in Beijing aimed at ridding the North of its nuclear weapons program. The push found new urgency after missile and nuclear bomb tests by the communist-led North last year.

Chief North Korean disarmament negotiator Kim Kye Gwan told Albright and Joel Wit, a former State Department official, that nothing would happen until the U.S. agreed to the construction of light-water reactors that Washington promised North Korea under a 1994 deal to freeze Pyongyang's nuclear program.

That deal, which also included an annual supply of half a million tons of heavy fuel oil until the reactors were built, was scrapped in 2002 when North Korea admitted it had restarted its atomic program.

Albright said the North emphasized that it now wanted either electricity shipments or more heavy fuel oil than was promised in the 1994 deal.

Albright said North Korean officials ``acted as if it was going to be settled. They were pretty optimistic.''

``My sense is that they're willing to go for disarmament, but that it's going to be a very slow process, because of the lack of trust of the United States,'' said Albright, the head of the Institute for Science and International Security.

Christopher Hill, the chief U.S. envoy to the six-nation negotiations, said Tuesday in Tokyo that negotiators from Pyongyang had not raised the issue of heavy fuel oil in return for shutting down its reactor.

But Hill said there was room to discuss the matter under a September 2005 pledge in which North Korea agreed to give up its nuclear program in exchange for aid and security guarantees.