U.S. Envoy Describes N. Korean Nuclear Deal

After nearly a week of talks in Beijing on North Korea's nuclear program, negotiators announce a breakthrough. U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill, who led the U.S. presence at the six-nation talks, discusses the outcome.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

After nearly a week of difficult negotiations, a deal was struck in Beijing today. North Korea has agreed to shut down its main nuclear reactor and allow international nuclear inspectors on its soil in exchange for tens of thousands of tons of fuel oil.

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill led the U.S. delegation to the six-party talk, which also included South Korea, Japan, Russia and China. He joins us on the line now from Beijing. Hello.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER HILL (Assistant Secretary of State): Hi.

MONTAGNE: So North Korea has agreed to close a nuclear reactor in exchange for aid. What are the other key elements of this deal?

Mr. HILL: Well, first of all, these are a series of initial steps and, you know, what we're aiming for is the complete denuclearization of North Korea. That's an agreement we reached in September '05. So this is the first of the implementation agreements on that.

So the first thing is, the North Koreans would shut down their reactor - the reactor that is producing all this plutonium - shut it down, seal it, for the purpose of eventually getting rid of it, abandoning it per the agreement, and bringing the international inspectors in.

The second thing they'll do is to begin to discuss the list of all of their nuclear programs, because we've got to get a handle on how much plutonium they've already produced from this reactor and we also have to get a handle on some of the other programs. And in return, what we've agreed to do is to begin a process, bilateral process, where we start to consider a normalization of our relations. And we've agreed to give them some fuel assistance, an initial assistance of some 50,000 tons of so-called heavy fuel oil.

MONTAGNE: Now when you say they've agreed to discuss other nuclear programs, does that mean that they will state or reveal or are agreeing to say all of the programs they have?

Mr. HILL: Oh, yes, because what you aim for in denuclearization is you get a so-called declaration. And so to get the declaration, we need to have a discussion about what they exactly have in the country. According to the September '05 statement, they agreed to get rid of all of them, all of these existing nuclear programs and weapons programs.

MONTAGNE: But of course North Korea has agreed in the past to do this to declare everything that it's doing and then quietly pursued programs.

Mr. HILL: Well, to be sure, we have to run to ground one of the main issues which is the question, really, of their highly enriched uranium program. Our view is they have one. They have said they don't. And clearly we need to run that to ground, and I have raised that on a number of occasions with the North Koreans. And what they have agreed to do is to set up a working group, and work through what we know and what they can tell us about that. So obviously we have a long way to go. This set of initial actions is just that. But, you know, I think, frankly, it's a good first step.

MONTAGNE: Even before this deal was announced, critics were speaking out against it. John Bolton, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. is one, and I'll quote him saying, "it sends exactly the wrong signal to would-be proliferators around the world. If you hold out long enough, you will be rewarded." What do you say to that?

Mr. HILL: Well, you know, first of all, Mr. Bolton's a private citizen. He's absolutely entitled to his private opinions to some things…

MONTAGNE: Right. But about that?

Mr. HILL: You know, I have trouble with the notion that North Korea's being rewarded. After all, they've been the subject of a couple of U.N. Security Council sanctions, resolution; they're sanctioned by the international community. They are a impoverished country, getting poorer. They are more isolated than ever before. So the notion that they're somehow living high on the hog, I would argue it's quite different.

I would argue that because of these actions, because of the fact that we've kept the international community unified - and it's important to understand we're working through this with a six-party process. This is not just the U.S. and North Korea; we're working very closely with some other key countries, notably China. So I think North Korea is as isolated as it's ever been before, as impoverished as it's ever been before, and I think that's the reason we might be making some progress.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much.

Mr. HILL: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill speaking from Beijing, where six-party talks have produced a long sought agreement on North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

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