US Backs NKorea Nuclear Facilities Plan
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States on Wednesday lauded an agreement for North Korea to acknowledge its nuclear programs and disable all activities at its main reactor complex, with the White House calling it significant progress toward a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.
"President Bush welcomes today's announcement," said Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the White House's National Security Council. "These second-phase actions effectively end the DPRK's production of plutonium - a major step towards the goal of achieving the verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
Johndroe was referring to the official name for North Korea, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and to a February agreement reached between Pyongyang and five other nations - the United States, Russia, China, South Korea and Japan. In the first phase of that agreement, Pyongyang was required to shut down and seal its Yongbyon reactor facility, which it did in July. The second phase required it to disable its sole functioning reactor at Yongbyon and provide a full description of all its nuclear programs.
Wednesday's agreement calls for that to happen by the end of the year.
In return, the United States will remove North Korea from a list of countries that sponsor terrorism, a key demand of Pyongyang. No timetable was set for this action and is dependent upon the North Korean government following through on its commitment.
Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the top U.S. nuclear negotiator with North Korea, told a Tuesday news conference in New York that President Bush had agreed to a joint statement proposed by China at the end of six-party talks last weekend.
Speaking at the Foreign Press Center, Hill said at the time that he expected all other parties to the Korea talks to sign on to the joint statement, which should be released in Beijing in the next few days.
The multiparty talks on North Korea have dragged on for four years. But if the initiative ultimately is successful, it would roll back a nuclear program that a year ago allowed North Korea to detonate a nuclear device and that experts say may have produced more than a dozen nuclear bombs.
North Korea is required to disable its sole functioning reactor at Yongbyon in exchange for economic aid and political concessions under a February deal reached through the six-party talks. In July, the North closed Yongbyon, as well as other facilities, ahead of their disablement.
Once there is a six-party agreement, Hill said Tuesday, the U.S. expects the process of disabling the reactor to get under way "in a matter of weeks." The U.S. wants the dismantling process so thorough that a nuclear facility could not be made operational for at least 12 months.
"We will then be able to move to what we hope will be a final phase," Hill said. "That is in the calendar year 2008 which will deal with the actual abandonment of the fissile material."
Hill said the North has about 110 pounds of fissile material harvested from the nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, and will have to declare exactly how much. The U.S. also wants to resolve concerns about the North's uranium enrichment program, he said.
Associated Press reporter Edith Lederer contributed to this story from New York.