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US, Russian, Chinese Nuclear Experts to Visit North Korean Nuclear Sites


A team of nuclear experts from the United States, China and Russia will go to North Korea next week to survey nuclear facilities that would be disabled if Pyongyang eventually agrees to abandon its nuclear weapons programs. VOA White House correspondent Paula Wolfson reports from Sydney, where the North Korean nuclear issue dominated talks between U.S. President George Bush and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun.

The chief U.S. envoy to the six-nation North Korean nuclear disarmament talks, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, says the technical teams will go in at the invitation of the North Koreans.

"And the purpose is to do a survey of the sites that need to be disabled pursuant to our agreement," he said.

Hill said Friday that the site visits will be purely technical in nature, and the nuclear experts will report back to the next meeting of the six countries negotiating the North Korean nuclear issue.

"It's a good step. We have to see what the results are," he said.

North Korea agreed in principle last February to reveal and disable all of its nuclear facilities, in return for food and energy aid, security guarantees, and diplomatic concessions.

As a first step in that process, the North has already shut down its main nuclear facility, at Yongbyon. Hill, in Sydney in conjunction with this week's Asia Pacific summit meeting, said Yongbyon was one of the facilities that would be visited by the nuclear experts this month.

President Bush said earlier Friday that if North Korean leader Kim Jong Il meets all obligations and gives up his nuclear programs, the way will be clear for a treaty formally ending the 1950-1953 Korean War.

"When the North Korean leader fully discloses and gets rid of his nuclear weapons programs...we can achieve a new security arrangement in the Korean peninsula...we can have the peace that we all long for," he said.

Mr. Bush spoke at the conclusion of a meeting here with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, at which North Korea was a major topic.

During a brief joint appearance before reporters, the South Korean president prodded Mr. Bush to clarify his statements, setting off a rather awkward public exchange.

"I think I might be wrong," he said. "I think I did not hear President Bush mention a declaration to end the Korean War just now. Did you say so President Bush?"

Mr. Bush looked a bit puzzled, and then appeared annoyed. He repeated his desire to see a formal end to the Korean War, which ended with an armistice instead of a peace treaty.

"I could not be any more clear, Mr. President," said Mr. Bush. "We look forward to the day we can end the Korean War, and that will happen when Kim Jong Il verifiably gets rid of his weapons programs and his weapons."

U.S. officials later downplayed the incident, saying there was a problem with the translation from English to Korean. They said the meeting between the two men was warm, and there was no tension.

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