North Korea nuclear talks end with commitment, but no deadline

By RIA Novosti

Beijing : The six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear disarmament ended Friday without setting a deadline for the next steps to denuclearise the country, but participants reaffirmed their commitment to push forward with the process.

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The negotiations between envoys from China, Japan, Russia, the US and the two Koreas began Wednesday in Beijing and were originally planned to last for two days, through Thursday, but the diplomats decided to conduct bilateral consultations before making a final statement Friday.

Wu Dawei, China's deputy foreign minister said that North Korea reaffirmed its readiness to declare and shut down all its nuclear facilities in line with the country's nuclear disarmament programme.

Other participants agreed to honour their commitments to provide the impoverished Communist regime with fuel supplies and humanitarian aid.

The diplomats discussed arrangements for the second phase of talks in Beijing on the disarmament process, which aims at permanently disabling North Korea's nuclear facilities and receiving a full account of its nuclear weapon activities.

The negotiators agreed to schedule meetings for working groups to discuss how to disable North Korea's nuclear facilities by the end of August and to hold the next round of six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear programme in early September, followed shortly by a ministerial meeting.

UN nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed Wednesday that North Korea had closed all the facilities at its main nuclear complex at Yongbyon, 100 km north of Pyongyang, in addition to its only operating reactor, which was a source of weapons-grade plutonium.

The move has essentially finalized the first phase of the disarmament deal agreed February 13, when Pyongyang was promised economic and diplomatic incentives in exchange for disabling its nuclear facilities.

Pyongyang has begun receiving 50,000 tonnes of heavy oil fuel from South Korea for its thermal power plants as an incentive for the reactor shutdown, and is to eventually receive a total of 950,000 tonnes from China, Russia and the US.

North Korea now expects Washington to strike it off the list of countries sponsoring terrorism, and to drop its "hostile" policies toward Pyongyang, and for Japan to improve ties with the regime, which it accuses of kidnapping its nationals in the 1970s-1980s.

The reclusive Communist regime also wants assurances that South Korea will not deploy nuclear weapons.

Sources at the talks said North Korea had the capacity to receive about 50,000 tonnes of fuel oil per month, and it would take up to 19 months to complete the deliveries, although part of the fuel supplies could be substituted for other forms of humanitarian aid, including food supplies.

Delays in the implementation of the February 13 commitments were caused by a dispute with Washington over North Korea's frozen $25 million in a Macao bank, which finally reached Pyongyang in late June.

Pyongyang expelled IAEA inspectors, withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2002, and conducted its first nuclear bomb tests last October.