North Korea could shut down reactor in weeks: US envoy


Beijing : North Korea could shut down its main nuclear reactor within a few weeks and allow negotiations on ending its nuclear weapons programme to make up time lost to a protracted bank transfer, US negotiator Christopher Hill said Monday.

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"We are now, I think, very much getting prepared for the shutdown of the nuclear facility in Yongbyon," Hill said a day after North Korea invited International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to talks on the dismantlement of the reactor.

Hill said the UN agency still had "technical questions" on the monitoring of the shutdown but that those would take "weeks" to resolve.

"We've made an important turn, and we're back on the subject in hand, which is denuclearisation," he told reporters.

Hill said he held "good discussions" Monday with his counterpart Wu Dawei, China's envoy to six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear programme, which have also involved South Korea, Japan and Russia.

He said he expected South Korea to place a refinery order for heavy fuel oil this week and that the first delivery to North Korea would take place "maybe within a week or two."

Under a six-party agreement in February, North Korea is to receive 950,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil in return for shutting down the reactor.

"We have to figure out how we can handle that and ensure that the (North) Koreans do their part," Hill said.

Another potential sticking point is the obligation on North Korea to disclose a full list of its nuclear facilities, he said.

Hill planned to leave Beijing later on Monday for similar talks with his counterparts in South Korea and Japan.

North Korea's official KCNA news agency reported Saturday that it had invited an IAEA working group to visit the country after the release of money from previously frozen North Korean accounts at a Macau-based bank had entered the "final phase."

More than 20 million dollars reportedly reached the New York branch of the US Federal Reserve Friday from the Macau- based Banco Delta Asia. The money is to be deposited in North Korean accounts at a Russian commercial bank.

Macau authorities had frozen the accounts after the US linked them to money laundering, counterfeiting and drug trafficking. They were released as a concession to Pyongyang to move the nuclear talks forward.