- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 13, 2007

BEIJING — The next 60 days will determine whether the new document to halt and eventually eliminate North Korea’s nuclear programs will create the momentum to ease tensions in Northeast Asia or will become just another diplomatic chapter in a series of broken promises.

The document was crafted by China and signed yesterday by the representatives of all nations involved in the six-party talks.

The text of the accord, titled “Initial Actions for the Implementation of the Joint Statement,” was approved by the United States, North and South Korea, Japan and Russia following six days of protracted and intense negotiations in the Chinese capital. It calls for the implementation of an agreement in principle by the same parties in September 2005 to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.

The new accord requires North Korea to shut and seal its Yongbyon nuclear facility, allow members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to conduct monitoring and verification, and calls on North Korea to draw up a list of all its nuclear programs.

It also calls for separate bilateral talks with the United States and Japan to normalize ties with North Korea.

Lastly, it calls for China, Russia, South Korea and the United States to provide “emergency energy assistance” to North Korea in the form of 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil within the 60-day time frame. Japan will not participate until the issue of its citizens kidnapped by North Korea is resolved.

In his opening remarks to reporters after the deal was signed, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the head of the U.S. delegation, said it was important because “we’re moving off the pages” of the September 2005 statement “on to the ground and real implementation.”

“Obviously we have a long way to go, but we are pleased with this agreement. It’s a very, very solid step forward,” he added.

Mr. Hill fielded a battery of questions on whether North Korea will live up to its end of the deal.

On the question of IAEA inspectors being allowed into all North Korean nuclear facilities or just Yongbyon, he said, “As we go deeper into the process, we’ll need additional international monitoring, but in the set of initial actions it is just the Yongbyon site.”

Mr. Hill said there were “considerable” discussions on the uranium issue.

North Korea did not confirm having a heavy uranium program, but told the U.S. team “they were prepared to sit and discuss it.”

That issue, namely that North Korea was pushing a uranium program at the same time it was under obligation to shelve its plutonium program, was raised by the United States in 2003.

It formed the basis of a dispute that served to shelve the so-called Agreed Framework on nuclear suspension drawn up in 1994.

Mr. Hill said fissile material production had to be a part of North Korea’s complete declaration and needed to be “brought under international control” as part of the denuclearization process.

“Certainly initial actions must be understood as initial so just stopping the further production of plutonium doesn’t end the problem because there’s already plutonium that’s been produced,” he noted.

According to some estimates, North Korea has 110 pounds of weapons-grade plutonium. Mr. Hill said inspectors “will be able to work that out with much greater precision when they look more closely at the reactor.”

The joint statement does not specifically mention anything about North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons. Mr. Hill stated “absolutely” when asked if Pyongyang was required to declare how many it had.

“I think it’s important that [North Korea] reaffirm their commitment to the September 2005 agreement which calls for complete denuclearization, which of course includes nuclear weapons,” he said.

Mr. Hill said the initial two-month period involved discussing a list of nuclear programs to be abandoned, including the plutonium processed from fuel rods. He noted in the follow-on stage North Korea needed to provide a declaration, “but we don’t want a declaration that hasn’t been arrived at in an iterative manner, that is with a process.”

“We hope in this process of discussing their list we can get at a clear understanding of what they have, so that when we do get to the declaration, it will be accurate,” the envoy said.

Mr. Hill said the U.S. team had “a glimpse on what the next phase will be and we’ll be developing timelines as soon as we can do that.”

He said he thinks the six-party talks are a “negotiated process” and American diplomats “will just have to continue to work.”

“But we’re not going to rest until we complete the job.”

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