North Korea agreed yesterday to disable its main nuclear facility by the end of the year, in a rare process to be overseen by a U.S.-led international team and financed at least initially by the United States.
The U.S. inspectors are to arrive at the Yongbyon nuclear complex as early as next week, although Washington has yet to decide who will be in the delegation, chief U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill told reporters.
“The disablement of the 5-megawatt experimental reactor at Yongbyon, the reprocessing plant [radiochemical laboratory] at Yongbyon and the nuclear fuel-rod fabrication facility at Yongbyon will be completed by December 31, 2007,” according to a statement issued yesterday in Beijing.
President Bush, who had approved the deal reached by the six countries negotiating the end of the North’s nuclear programs, welcomed the announcement of Pyongyang‘s endorsement, saying “economic and energy assistance” will be “provided as North Korea carries out its commitments.”
“North Korea also committed not to transfer nuclear materials, technology, or know-how beyond its borders,” he said. “It will provide a complete and correct declaration of all its nuclear programs, nuclear-weapons programs, materials and any proliferation activity.”
The agreement was reached in Beijing last weekend, but delegates from North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Russia and the U.S. returned to their countries to receive final approval from their superiors. China, host of the six-party talks, secured the endorsement of each country before releasing the joint statement.
However, even though Japan yesterday welcomed a fresh six-party agreement, Chief Cabinet Secretary Nobutaka Machimura said Japan would maintain its sanctions against the North because of acontinuing dispute over the kidnapping of Japanese nationals by Pyongyang.
Japanese sanctions against Pyongyang include a ban on North Korean imports and visits by North Korean ships.
“We are not seeing any progress over the abduction issue,” Mr. Machimura said.
Mr. Hill, in a conference call with reporters after the announcement, said he had no idea how much the disabling of Yongbyon will cost, but analysts estimate the bill to be at least in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Next year, the goal is to dismantle all of the North’s nuclear programs and to abandon all fissile material at Yongbyon, a plutonium-producing facility that was shut down operationally in July, Mr. Hill said.
U.S., Chinese and Russian experts verified the reactor’s closure last month.
“As a first step, U.S. experts will lead another delegation to Yongbyon the week of Oct. 8 to prepare to develop operational plans for disablement,” the State Department said yesterday.
The department added that the North had “also agreed to address concerns related to any uranium-enrichment programs and activities,” even though yesterday’s statement only refers to “all nuclear programs” without further specificity.
Pyongyang has never publicly admitted to having a uranium-enrichment effort, but the Bush administration says it indicated as much when confronted with intelligence in 2002.
In exchange for fulfilling its commitments, North Korea is to receive 900,000 of 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil from the United States and its partners that Pyongyang was promised in February. It got the first 100,000 tons when it shut down Yongbyon.