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US Negotiator Expects North Korea Will Live Up to Promise to Shut Reactor

The top U.S. negotiator at North Korea's denuclearization talks says he expects Pyongyang will live up to its agreement in February to close its main nuclear reactor, even after missing a key deadline for the deal in April. VOA's William Ide has more from Washington.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill says that while a money dispute is still the biggest obstacle to the North Korea nuclear deal, Pyongyang continues to make assurances to the international community and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, that it is committed to moving forward.

"They have communicated directly to us, they have communicated to other members of the six-party talks, they have communicated publicly and communicated to the IAEA their commitment to fulfilling their part of the February agreement," he said.

According to the disarmament agreement reached in February, North Korea was supposed to take a major step forward toward denuclearization last month by shutting down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor. It refused, and demanded first the return of $25 million of its funds that are frozen in a Chinese bank in Macau. The funds were frozen after the United States alleged that they were linked to money laundering and counterfeiting. The issue has now been settled, but Hill said the process of getting the North its money has proven extraordinarily complex.

Speaking to an audience in Washington Friday, Hill said that while some have begun to doubt whether the deal will ever be implemented, he believes the Yongbyon plant could still be shut down and destroyed by the end of the year. In return for shutting down the plant, participants in the talks will supply North Korea with 950,000 tons of fuel aid. The U.S. official said that would complete two key phases of the agreement.

"But I think we can put ourselves into the position that by the end of this calendar year, by the later part of this calendar year, we can get through phase one and phase two and [be] poised to work on phase three," he said.

Hill says phase three of the deal is likely to mark the beginning of tougher negotiations because it will involve the process of dismantling the plant altogether and the question of what to do with some 50 to 60 tons of fissile material.