North Korea plans to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor in the
second half of July, the Interfax-China news agency reported yesterday,
citing an unnamed North Korean official in Beijing.
"Based on our specialists' evaluations, it will take one month
to technically shut down the reactor. This way, we expect to seal it in
accordance with agreements reached at six-party talks in the second
half of July 2007," the official was quoted as saying.
Christopher Hill, the chief U.S. envoy to multilateral
disarmament talks, said in Beijing yesterday the shutdown could be just
"a matter of weeks" away,
"Our sense is that we will be down to a matter of weeks," Hill told reporters.
South Korea said earlier yesterday it expected North Korea to start shutting its Yongbyon reactor in two to three weeks.
The remarks came after a weekend announcement by the communist state
that raised hopes of a breakthrough in the protracted nuclear
The North said Saturday it had invited the U.N. nuclear
watchdog to discuss the shutdown of Yongbyon, now that a banking
dispute with the United States which had blocked a February disarmament
pact was almost over.
Chun Yung-woo, the South's chief nuclear negotiator, also said
yesterday it expects North Korea to start shutting down its reactor in
two to three weeks, after a weekend announcement by the communist state
raised hopes of a breakthrough in the protracted nuclear disarmament
"In the next two or three weeks, I hope, the International
Atomic Energy Agency monitoring and verification team will visit North
Korea and begin to shut down its nuclear reactor," he said.
The North has not yet acknowledged receipt of more than $20
million in funds which had been frozen in Macau under U.S. sanctions,
as Washington expects it to do.
Nor has it given a firm commitment to shut Yongbyon, the source
of raw material for bomb-making plutonium. But both Seoul and
Washington welcomed Saturday's announcement, the first sign of hope
after months of complex negotiations.
Hill was quoted Saturday as saying technical problems had
occurred as the North's funds were returned via a Russian bank, but
that the glitch would likely be fixed by Monday.
Six-nation talks on the North's nuclear programs could resume
early next month, he was quoted as saying during a visit to Mongolia.
Hill was in Beijing yesterday and arrived in Seoul later in the
day for talks on pushing the process forward after a four-month
stalemate. He will go on to Tokyo this afternoon.
The IAEA has not confirmed what the next step will be. But
reports say a preliminary inspectors' mission, possibly this week, will
work out technical details and see what needs to be done.
The IAEA board is then expected to meet, possibly on July 9, to
authorize inspections of Yongbyon, which is thought to be the North's
only operating reactor and the source of plutonium for its nuclear test
Its shutdown is the first step in the deal involving the two
Koreas, the U.S., Russia, China and Japan. In return, South Korea is to
provide 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil.
"As soon as North Korea and the IAEA launch the (working-level)
consultations, we will begin to prepare to carry out our duty with the
supply of heavy fuel oil to North Korea," a senior Seoul official told
AFP on condition of anonymity, and without giving any timeframe.
Under a second phase of the pact, the North, which has worked
for decades to develop a nuclear bomb, would disable all its nuclear
programs in return for 950,000 tons of oil or equivalent aid, and major
diplomatic benefits -- including the establishment of diplomatic
relations with the United States.
The North has repeatedly refused to start implementing the
agreement until it receives the money, which was frozen at Macau's
Banco Delta Asia in 2005 over U.S. allegations of money-laundering and
In an effort to get the stalled nuclear pact moving, the United
States unfroze the funds in March, but had problems finding an
international bank to handle the transfer of apparently tainted cash.
In a highly unusual step it used the New York Federal Reserve
to help transfer the cash from BDA to Russia's central bank and on to a
private Russian bank at which the North has an account.
From news reports