Busy diplomatic schedules are being circulated among the members of the six-party talks, including a timetable for the resumption of the nuclear negotiations, possibly soon after July 4, according to top U.S. envoy Christopher Hill yesterday.
Members of the six-party talks also agreed to hold informal discussions early next month in Beijing to set the table for further negotiations and follow-up measures entailed in the Feb. 13 agreement, Yonhap News reported.
North Korea is expected to freeze and shut down its Yongbyon reactor and the reprocessing facility around the time of the informal talks, it said.
July will be a busy month of shuttle diplomacy, Hill told reporters, as the six-party talks get ready to see their first tangible accomplishment in North Korea shutting down its nuclear facilities.
"I would like it immediately after the 4th of July," Hill said, adding he hoped to have bilateral talks with the North Koreans before the next six-party talks.
"We need to make sure the first phase is done, and we need to make sure that we have adequate time to prepare materials for the ministerials," Hill said, after meeting Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Shotaro Yachi. "We have a lot of work to do, but very little time to do it."
Last week, North Korea invited the International Atomic Energy Agency officials into the country, after a delay of nearly four months over the transfer of funds initially frozen at a Macau bank in a dispute with the United States.
All the North Korean accounts were successfully transferred out of the bank as of yesterday afternoon, according to Hill in Japan.
"As the hurdle has been removed, we now enter a stage to focus on implementing the Feb. 13 agreement swiftly," South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon said in a regular press briefing.
He said the working groups categorized at the last six-party negotiation should also be activated. They include committees that will separately focus on energy and economic incentives, disablement of nuclear facilities, and the normalization of relations with North Korea.
China, the host of the six-party talks, said yesterday that it is possible for the ministers in the negotiations to hold six-way talks on Aug. 2, on the sidelines of the ASEAN regional forum opening in the Philippines.
The unofficial talks will involve China, South Korea and the United States, with the possibility of Japan and Russia participating, as well.
Based on the Feb. 13 agreement, North Korea is responsible for completing the shutdown, not the IAEA. The IAEA will be in charge of monitoring and verifying the move.
Some reports suggest the reactor and reprocessing plant in Yongbyon produced enough plutonium to make up to a dozen nuclear weapons. The reactor was initially built for energy production some 20 years ago.
The IAEA and North Korea must reach a consensus on the nuclear facilities to be shut down, facilities subject to inspection, and how to verify and inspect the closure.
The unofficial talks in Beijing in early July will focus on whether the level of agreement between the IAEA and North Korea is satisfactory to the other members, Yonhap quoted an unidentified source as saying.
"The important thing is for the talks to be held immediately after a smooth agreement is reached between North Korea and the IAEA," the official said.
In separate news, the U.S. State Department said yesterday that the United States is not yet ready to resume its humanitarian aid to the impoverished North.
"I am not aware of anybody reviewing our humanitarian aid policy, which goes through the WFP (U.N. World Food Program)," Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.
Any other types of aid would stay within the context of the six-party talks, he added.
By Lee Joo-hee