- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 13, 2008

BEIJING | North Korea agreed to disable its main reactor by the end of October and to allow international inspections to verify its nuclear disarmament in a deal reached Saturday at the end of six-nation talks.

In exchange, the United States, China and three other countries promised to complete deliveries of fuel oil and other economic aid to Pyongyang.

The agreement, reached after three days of talks, opens the final phase of long and tortuous efforts to rid North Korea of nuclear weapons.

“The parties reach an important consensus,” said China’s envoy, Wu Dawei, as he read out the group’s press release at the end of the meeting.

The envoys from the six nations - which also included South Korea, Japan and Russia - agreed that a team of specialists will visit North Korean nuclear facilities, review documents and interview technicians as part of the verification procedure.

The agreement also allows the nuclear inspectors to call on the International Atomic Energy Agency to help in verification.

A working group still needs to hash out technical details of the verification process, but the six nations hope to agree on specific steps by early September, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill said.

“We would like the protocol to be reached within 45 days and, secondly, to begin verification within 45 days. We’re anticipating that, and we don’t see any obstacles,” Mr. Hill told reporters after the talks.

The envoys will be gathering later in the month for a regional security forum in Singapore and may hold informal talks there, he said.

The agreement, though not complete, signals the start of the final phase of years of on-again, off-again negotiations to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

Beyond the October deadline for disabling North Korea’s main nuclear facility at Yongbyon, the agreement did not set a timetable for full disarmament. But President Bush is thought to be eager to see North Korea disarmed before he leaves office in January.

Kim Sook, Seoul’s top nuclear envoy, said afterward that “a very difficult task” lies ahead in implementing verification, though he did not elaborate. He added that access to the North’s facilities during the verification process should be “unlimited.”

Questions remain about how much of its nuclear programs North Korea disclosed in a declaration last month. The North, which exploded a nuclear device in 2006, is thought to have produced enough weapons-grade plutonium to make as many as 10 nuclear bombs, and the U.S. has accused Pyongyang of running a second weapons program based on uranium.

cAssociated Press writers Kwang-tae Kim and Henry Sanderson contributed to this report.

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