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Diplomats Discuss Disarming North Korea

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer in for Renee Montagne.

Now that North Korea's main nuclear facility has been shut down, diplomats from six nations are laying out the next steps toward the goal of the country's full nuclear disarmament. In the Chinese capital of Beijing, the main item on the agenda is whether Pyongyang is prepared to give up its atomic weapons.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports.

ANTHONY KUHN: Speaking in Malaysia today, Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said IAEA inspectors had checked the reactor, laboratories, and other facilities in North Korea's Yongbyon complex, and verified the shutdown.

It's the first phase of a February agreement that got bogged down over the issue of North Korea's frozen assets.

U.S. envoy Christopher Hill said that negotiations today would focus on implementing the second phase of the agreement.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER HILL (Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs): Two main tasks on the North Korean side: one is to come up with this comprehensive declaration of all nuclear programs. The second task is the disablement of these nuclear programs.

KUHN: Hill has said that he expects the declaration within a couple of months. He noted that the U.S. will be looking to see whether the inventory includes the covert uranium enrichment plan the U.S. suspects Pyongyang has.

Yesterday, Hill said he met with the heads of the other delegations to discuss a work plan for the coming months.

Mr. HILL: I tried to advance the idea that we need a sort of overall timeframe for that second phase. My own view is we ought to try to wrap this up in calendar year '07 so we can get an endgame in '08.

KUHN: Last week North Korea said it was willing to declare its nuclear inventory, but it said that the U.S. had to lift all sanctions against it and cancel what it called it's hostile policies.

Experts generally agree that getting Pyongyang to give up its atomic bombs is going to be tougher than shutting down Yongbyon. Jack Pritchard is a former State Department envoy on North Korea. He says that North Korea was willing to shut down Yongbyon because the Soviet-era facility was becoming obsolete and losing its value as a bargaining chip.

Mr. JACK PRITCHARD (Former State Department Special Envoy, North Korea): They've processed enough plutonium for up to 10 nuclear weapons. They're not in the business to become a large strategic offensive threat to the other countries in the region. So they really don't need Yongbyon anymore.

KUHN: Experts differ on whether or not North Korea is committed to denuclearizing. They say North Korea's leaders have two options to try and ensure the survival of their regime. One is to hang on to their nuclear trump card. The other is to follow through with the six-party process and normalize diplomatic relations with the U.S.

Recent changes in the U.S.'s approach to the North Korean nuclear issue may now make diplomacy the more attractive option.

Again, Jack Pritchard...

Mr. PRITCHARD: It has only been since this past November, when the Republicans lost control of the Congress and the Bush administration took a hard look at what it was faced with and the removal of those in the hard-line camp that has allowed Secretary Rice and Ambassador Chris Hill a new lease on life in terms of real diplomacy.

KUHN: That diplomacy has included several one-on-one meetings between Christopher Hill and the North Koreans, most recently last month in Pyongyang.

Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Anthony Kuhn
Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.
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