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US Endorses Plan For Disabling North Korean Nuclear Sites

The United States said Tuesday it has approved a draft six-nation accord under which North Korea will declare and disable its nuclear programs by the end of the year in exchange for aid and diplomatic benefits. China is expected to release the document within the next day or two. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

U.S. officials say the latest round of six-party talks, which ended Sunday in Beijing, was not originally intended to produce a document.

But they say that so much progress was made in the three-day session that host China proposed and drafted the statement, which has been referred to the various governments for final approval.

Officials here decline to elaborate on its contents other than to say that it will commit North Korea to disabling its nuclear facilities and declaring all its nuclear holdings including weapons by the end of the year.

The other parties to the talks, Japan, South Korea and Russia, along with the United States and China, will in turn define benefits that would go to North Korea because of its cooperation.

The chief U.S. delegate to the six-party talks, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs Christopher Hill, briefed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the document in New York Monday.

Rice, in turn met with President Bush at the White House Tuesday morning, and China was notified of the Bush administration's approval of the draft.

North Korea shut down its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, the source of plutonium for its small arsenal of nuclear weapons, in July in return for initial deliveries of an eventual one million tons of fuel oil or equivalent aid.

North Korea froze operations at the reactor under a 1994 deal with the Clinton administration that later fell apart. State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack says its commitment now to permanently disable the site is unprecedented in all the years of Korean nuclear diplomacy:

"Disabling the Yongbyon facility and a full declaration of North Korea's nuclear program: that's new, that's path-breaking," said Sean McCormack. "And we'll see, between now and the end of the year, if we can achieve that. And if the North Koreans meet the conditions that have been laid out for them by the other parties, then they are going to receive some benefits for that changed behavior."

North Korea's envoy to the nuclear talks, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-Gwan, says one benefit stipulated in the accord is the removal of Pyongyang, by a date certain, from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.

In a talk with reporters in New York, Assistant Secretary Hill declined to confirm that such a commitment is included, but he said it has been an issue of active discussion between the two governments:

"Obviously, it's an issue of great concern to them," said Christopher Hill. "They would very much like to be off that list. From our point of view, anytime we can work with a country to get them off this list, and that is to remove a country as a threat or as a country that we have concerns about insofar as it can be a state sponsor of terrorism, that's something that we always want to do. To be sure this is an issue in our process and obviously we are working with the DPRK [North Korea] on this."

U.S. officials say there is no evidence of North Korean involvement in terrorism since the mid-1980's.

Japan has opposed removing North Korea from the terrorism list because of still-unresolved cases of alleged North Korean abductions of Japanese citizens from the same era.

News reports from Tokyo say Japan has accepted the new six-party statement, but with deep reservations.

Hill said if, as expected, the statement is approved by the all the parties, the process of disabling the nuclear sites could get under way in a matter of weeks, and that the United States would be heavily involved on the ground in North Korea.

The U.S. diplomat said once that process is complete and North Korea accounts for an estimated 50 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium and a secrecy-shrouded uranium enrichment effort, the end-stage of the six-party process can proceed in 2008.

That would include the surrender and disposal of the nuclear materials, and delivery of diplomatic benefits for Pyongyang including normalized relations with the United States and Japan and an agreement formally ending the 1950's Korean war.

Hill cautioned the remaining process will not be easy but said if it is successful, the situation in northeast Asia will be transformed for the better.

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