- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 18, 2007

VIENNA, Austria (AP) — The U.N. atomic watchdog agency and the U.S. government both reported progress yesterday in the international effort to eliminate North Korea’s nuclear program.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the communist regime is cooperating with U.N. specialists overseeing the mothballing of key nuclear facilities, while a senior U.S. diplomat said talks with the communist regime had produced a basic “consensus on the way forward.”

The two assessments suggested that efforts to do away with the North’s nuclear weapons threat remained on track since the process resumed in July, when the reclusive country made good on promises to shut down a plutonium-producing facility.

In Vienna, a confidential report prepared for next month’s meeting of the IAEA’s 35-nation board said U.N. specialists have been able to monitor and verify the nuclear program’s status “with the cooperation” of North Korea.

The paper is the first since 2003 to confirm the status of the North’s known nuclear activities. That year, the North expelled U.N. inspectors and quit the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty — the start of events that led to its test explosion of a nuclear bomb last October.

The report said IAEA specialists last month confirmed the shutdown of four nuclear facilities at Yongbyon — a nuclear fuel fabrication plant, a reprocessing plant and two nuclear power plants, one still under construction. An unfinished 200-megawatt nuclear power plant at Taechon also was shuttered, it said.

Separate word of progress came from U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill at the end of two days of technical talks on North Korea’s nuclear program in the northeastern Chinese city of Shenyang.

The sessions were “very businesslike, very specific,” with negotiators discussing details about how North Korea should abide by commitments to disclose all its nuclear facilities and disable them, Mr. Hill told reporters.

“I think we now have the basis for achieving consensus on these issues and consensus on the way forward,” he said.

The talks are building on North Korea’s commitment to disable its plutonium reactor at Yongbyon and declare and eventually dismantle all its nuclear facilities as part of a February agreement with the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea. In exchange, the economically struggling North is to receive oil and other aid.

Despite that agreement, disputes about whether the North has an alternative, undeclared nuclear weapons program based on uranium continue to bedevil the disarmament process.

North Korea said for the first time this week that it was willing to resolve the issue, although it did not acknowledge having a uranium enrichment program, envoys said.

“I think we’ll have to take that at its face value, with the understanding that a full declaration needs to include uranium enrichment and they acknowledge that fact for resolution of the issue,” Mr. Hill said.

The IAEA report made no mention of any enrichment efforts.

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