- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2007

President Bush yesterday approved a draft agreement with North Korea that would disable its main nuclear complex and produce a full list of Pyongyang’s other atomic activities by year’s end in exchange for political and economic incentives from the United States and its partners.

Six countries negotiating the dismantling of the North’s nuclear programs in Beijing tentatively agreed on the plan last weekend, but delegations returned to their countries to brief top decision-makers and secure their final approval.

“We have conveyed to the Chinese government our approval for the draft statement,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.

Chief U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill said that if the other five countries — North and South Korea, China, Japan and Russia — endorse the deal, the disabling of the Yongbyon nuclear reactor will “get under way in a matter of weeks.”

“I believe that other parties are prepared to sign on to this text,” Mr. Hill said at the Foreign Press Center in New York. “I’m confident that others will come to the conclusion we came to.”

Under the plan, the United States will be “participating heavily in the actual disablement” and will have “people on the ground” in Yongbyon, a plutonium-producing facility that was shut down in July, Mr. Hill said.

He refused to discuss details of the tentative agreement, which was reached in Beijing on Sunday, saying only that it “relates very directly to how we can move forward in the coming months on a certain timetable” for disablement.

“As the Chinese canvass the other members of the six-party process, I’m expecting that they will be in a position in the next day or two to announce and to release the joint statement,” he said.

Mr. Hill flew from Beijing to New York, where he briefed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the plan on Monday. Yesterday, both of them had breakfast with Mr. Bush at the White House, and he gave his approval.

Asked whether the deal was an easy sell, Mr. Hill said: “Man, it’s never been an easy sell in Washington,” adding, “It was certainly necessary to explain some things.”

The United States and its partners have offered the North various incentives at each stage of the process, including 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil, electricity, food and other aid. Washington has also promised to establish diplomatic relations with Pyongyang and take it off its blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism.

Chief North Korean negotiator Kim Kye-gwan told reporters in Beijing before he left that, according to the new plan, the removal from the list will be done by the end of the year. Japanese officials, who are opposed to such a move, denied Mr. Kim’s assertion, but Mr. Hill did not.

He urged Tokyo and Pyongyang to improve their relationship, whose importance he stressed several times.

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