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US Says North Korea Disarmament Action This Year Still Feasible


The U.S. envoy to the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program says completing the next phase of the disarmament process is still feasible by year's end, even though talks in Beijing last week failed to produce a timetable for it. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Christopher Hill says envoys will convene again on the issue by early September. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The failure of last week's round to produce a plan for North Korea to disclose all its nuclear holdings and permanently disable its nuclear reactor complex by the end of the year is widely reported to have been a setback to the six-party process.

But Assistant Secretary Hill says it is "still very much feasible" that the plan can be achieved at the next envoys' meeting, clearing the way for an early ministerial-level six-party conference and the commencement of actual disarmament steps.

The Beijing talks last week followed the shutdown of North Korea's Yongbyon reactor complex and the beginning of international energy aid to the reclusive communist state in the form of heavy fuel oil.

The next phase of the process is to include the permanent disabling of Yongbyon and a declaration by North Korea of all its nuclear programs and holdings including weapons and fissile material.

Hill told reporters here the Beijing meetings were good and non-polemical, and that achieving the next steps by the end of this year is still within reach.

"Yes, it can be done if they want it to be done. I mean disabling activities are not a matter of months they are a matter of weeks. So if we have a time-frame where everything works, and where we have enough of the fuel oil shipments front-loaded in the guise of fuel oil equivalents, then I think it is reasonable," he said.

Between now and the September envoys meeting, working groups will meet to discuss specifics of disarmament, aid to North Korea, and related issues including eventual normal relations between the United States and North Korea. Under questioning, Hill made clear normalization is out of the question unless Pyongyang disarms.

"Any effort to normalize our relationship really hits a brick wall over denuclearization. That is, we cannot, will not have a normal relationship with a nuclear North Korea. But if they fulfill their promise to give up these programs, a lot of things indeed become very possible," he said.

Hill said unless Yongbyon is disabled and North Korea's nuclear holdings declared by year's end, it will be difficult to finish the disarmament deal by the end of 2008.

In return for giving up its nuclear arsenal, North Korea is to receive one million tons of fuel oil or in-kind assistance, as well as wide-ranging diplomatic benefits.

Over the weekend, North Korea said it also wanted a light-water nuclear power plant as compensation for shutting down its program. Hill however said any discussion of that would have to await the full implementation of the six-party accords of September 2005 and February of this year.

"It's contained very clearly in the September '05 statement. At an appropriate time we are prepared to discuss the subject of the provision of a light-water reactor. And we have explained that the appropriate time is when the DPRK gets out of this dirty nuclear business that they've been in and returns to the NPT [nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty]," he said.

Hill said that in lieu of heavy fuel oil, the energy starved country might get electricity from South Korea or help in refurbishing its conventional electric plants.

Along with the United States, North Korea and host China, the six-party process includes South Korea, Japan and Russia.

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