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Early reactor shutdown tied to energy aid receipt

- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 7, 2007

SEOUL — North Korea said yesterday it is willing to shut down its main nuclear reactor as soon as it receives an initial shipment of energy aid promised as a reward for closing the facility.

It is the first time that the communist nation has indicated a specific timeline for when it would close its Yongbyon facility in exchange for economic aid and political concessions, including 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil, as called for by a February international deal.

The North's Foreign Ministry said the country "is now earnestly examining even the issue of suspending the operation of its nuclear facilities earlier than expected, that is from the moment the first shipment of heavy oil equivalent to one-tenth of the total quantity is made," according to the country's official Korean Central News Agency.

South Korea said earlier yesterday that a first shipment of the energy aid, totaling 6,200 metric tons, would depart for North Korea on July 12. That is more than one-tenth of the 50,000 tons.

South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported yesterday that the shipment is expected to arrive in North Korea on July 14. That means the shutdown could theoretically begin next week.

The February agreement, which involves China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the United States, calls for the communist North to ultimately get additional aid equivalent to 950,000 tons when it irreversibly disables its reactor and declares all its nuclear programs.

South Korean chief nuclear negotiator, Chun Yung-woo, said he expects the six-party talks on the nuclear issue to resume later this month after North Korea closes Yongbyon.

"A meeting among the head delegates of the six-party talks will be held this month," Mr. Chun told reporters in Beijing following discussions with his Chinese counterpart, Wu Dawei.

Efforts to implement the February agreement that committed the North to shutting down its main reactor in exchange for economic aid and political concessions had been held up by a financial dispute between North Korea and the United States. The issue was resolved last week.