Diplomats Discuss Disarming North Korea

Diplomats meet in Beijing to lay out the next steps toward the goal of North Korea's full nuclear disarmament. The meeting follows the shutdown over the weekend of North Korea's main nuclear facility.

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Now that North Korea's main nuclear facility has been shut down, diplomats from six nations are laying out the next steps toward the goal of the country's full nuclear disarmament. In the Chinese capital of Beijing, the main item on the agenda is whether Pyongyang is prepared to give up its atomic weapons.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports.

ANTHONY KUHN: Speaking in Malaysia today, Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said IAEA inspectors had checked the reactor, laboratories, and other facilities in North Korea's Yongbyon complex, and verified the shutdown.

It's the first phase of a February agreement that got bogged down over the issue of North Korea's frozen assets.

U.S. envoy Christopher Hill said that negotiations today would focus on implementing the second phase of the agreement.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER HILL (Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs): Two main tasks on the North Korean side: one is to come up with this comprehensive declaration of all nuclear programs. The second task is the disablement of these nuclear programs.

KUHN: Hill has said that he expects the declaration within a couple of months. He noted that the U.S. will be looking to see whether the inventory includes the covert uranium enrichment plan the U.S. suspects Pyongyang has.

Yesterday, Hill said he met with the heads of the other delegations to discuss a work plan for the coming months.

Mr. HILL: I tried to advance the idea that we need a sort of overall timeframe for that second phase. My own view is we ought to try to wrap this up in calendar year '07 so we can get an endgame in '08.

KUHN: Last week North Korea said it was willing to declare its nuclear inventory, but it said that the U.S. had to lift all sanctions against it and cancel what it called it's hostile policies.

Experts generally agree that getting Pyongyang to give up its atomic bombs is going to be tougher than shutting down Yongbyon. Jack Pritchard is a former State Department envoy on North Korea. He says that North Korea was willing to shut down Yongbyon because the Soviet-era facility was becoming obsolete and losing its value as a bargaining chip.

Mr. JACK PRITCHARD (Former State Department Special Envoy, North Korea): They've processed enough plutonium for up to 10 nuclear weapons. They're not in the business to become a large strategic offensive threat to the other countries in the region. So they really don't need Yongbyon anymore.

KUHN: Experts differ on whether or not North Korea is committed to denuclearizing. They say North Korea's leaders have two options to try and ensure the survival of their regime. One is to hang on to their nuclear trump card. The other is to follow through with the six-party process and normalize diplomatic relations with the U.S.

Recent changes in the U.S.'s approach to the North Korean nuclear issue may now make diplomacy the more attractive option.

Again, Jack Pritchard...

Mr. PRITCHARD: It has only been since this past November, when the Republicans lost control of the Congress and the Bush administration took a hard look at what it was faced with and the removal of those in the hard-line camp that has allowed Secretary Rice and Ambassador Chris Hill a new lease on life in terms of real diplomacy.

KUHN: That diplomacy has included several one-on-one meetings between Christopher Hill and the North Koreans, most recently last month in Pyongyang.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing.

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N. Korea Agrees to Shut Down Nuke Programs

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill speaks with media before six-party talks. i i

hide captionU.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill speaks with media before six-party talks on July 18, 2007 in Beijing, China. The two-day meeting ends a recess of nearly four months.

China Photos/Getty Images
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill speaks with media before six-party talks.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill speaks with media before six-party talks on July 18, 2007 in Beijing, China. The two-day meeting ends a recess of nearly four months.

China Photos/Getty Images
North Korean soldiers look towards the southern side at the border village of Panmunjom Wednesday. i i

hide captionNorth Korean soldiers look towards the southern side at the border village of Panmunjom on Wednesday.

Kim Jae-Hwan/Getty Images
North Korean soldiers look towards the southern side at the border village of Panmunjom Wednesday.

North Korean soldiers look towards the southern side at the border village of Panmunjom on Wednesday.

Kim Jae-Hwan/Getty Images

North Korea followed up the shutdown of its sole operating reactor with a pledge Wednesday to disclose all its nuclear weapons programs and disable them by the end of the year, South Korea's nuclear envoy said.

The North's chief nuclear negotiator, Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, made the promise during the opening session of six-nation talks in Beijing, Chun Yung-woo said.

"North Korea expressed its intention to declare and disable (its nuclear facilities) within the shortest possible period, even within five or six months, or by the end of the year," Chun said.

In separate talks with South Korea on Wednesday, Kim said his country was willing to declare its nuclear programs "without omitting a single one," Chun said.

That implied North Korea will also mention a uranium enrichment program that it has never publicly acknowledged. The U.S. accused Pyongyang in 2002 of embarking on such a program in violation of an earlier disarmament deal - touching off a nuclear crisis.

Whether or not Pyongyang does give up its atomic weapons, changes in the American political landscape will likely continue to affect the negotiations.

Speaking in Malaysia Wednesday, Mohammed ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the agency's inspectors had checked the reactor, laboratories and other facilities at North Korea's Yongbyon complex and verified the shutdown.

It is the first phase of a February agreement and was supposed to have happened three months ago. Instead, it got bogged down over the issue of North Korea's frozen financial assets.

U.S. envoy Christopher Hill said that negotiations today would focus on implementing the second phase of the agreement.

"Two main tasks on the North Korean side: one is to come up with this comprehensive declaration. It's a comprehensive declaration of all nuclear programs. The second task is the disablement of these nuclear programs," Hill said.

Hill said that he expects the declaration within a couple of months and noted that the U.S. will be looking to see whether the inventory includes the covert uranium enrichment plan that Washington suspects Pyongyang of possessing.

On Tuesday, Hill said he met with the heads of the other delegations to discuss a work plan for the coming months.

"I tried to advance the idea that we need an overall timeframe for that second phase. My own view is that we ought to try to wrap this up in calendar year [2007] so that we can move on to the endgame in [2008]," he said.

Last week, North Korea said it was willing to declare its nuclear inventory, but it said that the U.S. had to lift all sanctions against it and cancel what it called its hostile policies.

Experts generally agree that getting Pyongyang to give up its atomic bombs is going to be tougher than shutting down Yongbyon. Jack Pritchard, a former State Department envoy on North Korea, said Pyongyang was willing to shut down Yongbyon because the Soviet-era facility was obsolete and losing its value as a bargaining chip.

"They've processed enough plutonium for up to ten nuclear weapons," he said. "They're not in the business to become a large, strategic, offensive threat to other countries in the region. So they really don't need Yongbyon anymore."

Experts differ on whether or not North Korea is committed to denuclearizing.

They say the country's leaders have two options to try to ensure the survival of their regime. One is to hang on to their nuclear trump card, the other is to follow through with the six-party process and normalize diplomatic relations with the U.S.

Recent changes in the U.S.'s approach to the North Korean nuclear issue may now make diplomacy the more attractive option.

"The first five years or so of the Bush Administration's policy towards North Korea can only be described as an absolute failure," Pritchard said. "It has only been since this past November, when Republicans lost control of the Congress, ... and the removal of those in the hard-line camp that has allowed Secretary Rice and Ambassador Chris Hill a new lease on life in terms of real diplomacy."

From NPR's Anthony Kuhn with additional reporting from The Associated Press

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