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Negotiations on North Korean nuclear programme resume

Latest update : 2008-07-10

Six-nation talks to restart negotiating the disarmament of North Korea's nuclear capabilities resumed in Beijing on Thursday, after more than a nine-month interruption.

North Korea returned Thursday to international talks on its nuclear activities after a nine-month break, in what host China hailed as a potential turning point in the disarmament process.
  
Envoys from the six nations involved in the long-running talks gathered in Beijing in an effort to capitalise on recent progress that saw the North finally hand over a declaration of its atomic activities last month.
  
The meeting "serves as a turning point to further push the six-party talks to a new stage," chief Chinese envoy Wu Dawei told his fellow delegates in front of reporters at the start of the discussions.
  
"Our goals should be to turn the new expectations of the various parties into a new consensus and to turn new aspirations into new momentum."
  
However the US and South Korean envoys cautioned there would be no quick, dramatic progress towards the final goal of North Korea completely and permanently giving up the nuclear programmes it has spent decades developing.
  
The talks -- which began in 2003 and involve China, the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia -- had not been held for nine months amid a deadlock over the North's much anticipated nuclear declaration.
  
But the United States quickly responded after the North delivered the document by easing some trade sanctions, as agreed to in a landmark six-nation accord in February last year.
  
Also as part of that accord, the United States began the process of taking the nation once described by President George W. Bush as part of an "axis of evil" off its list of state sponsors of terrorism.
  
Now the envoys to the multilateral talks have gathered to work out ways to verify that declaration, a potentially tricky process that US envoy Christopher Hill said could take months.
  
The declaration was a key part of the so-called "second phase" of last year's disarmament agreement, with the first phase seeing North Korea shut down its main plutonium-producing reactor at Yongbyon in July last year.
  
It then began disabling the plant under the supervision of US inspectors in November, and last month blew up the cooling tower at Yongbyon in a gesture intended to demonstrate its commitment to disarmament.
  
The Yongbyon plant was the source of the material the North used to conduct its first atomic test in 2006.
  
That historic event saw the United States soften its hardline stance against Pyongyang and begin offering incentives for disarmament, a vital turnaround in policy that led to last year's accord.
  
However the North's declaration only covered its nuclear facilities and the production of the plutonium, not its weapons or a suspected programme involving highly enriched uranium that can also be used to make bombs.
  
These issues threaten to again derail or delay the disarmament effort.
  
Hill on Thursday told reporters he wanted to conclude the second phase of the agreement -- which centres chiefly on verifying the North's declaration -- over the next few months.
  
"I think we have an understanding of where we need to be because we are looking to wrap up a lot of steps in phase two. We are looking to wrap that up in the (northern hemisphere) fall," he said.
  
Meanwhile, the North has complained the other parties in the talks have not fulfilled their ends of the bargain, particularly the delivery of one million tonnes of fuel it was meant to receive during the second phase.
  
A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman said on July 4 that while 80 percent of the Yongbyon facility had been disabled, only 40 percent of the promised energy aid had been delivered.
  
The third and final phase of the disarmament deal calls for the North to permanently dismantle its atomic plants and hand over all nuclear material and weaponry.
  
In return, it would receive wide-ranging energy aid benefits, as well as a restoration of diplomatic ties with the United States and Japan.

Date created : 2008-07-10

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