Move would help build trust in Six-Party Talks, U.S. envoy says
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Washington -- The top U.S. envoy for talks with North Korea is calling upon Pyongyang to live up to its September 19 agreement to end its nuclear weapons programs by ceasing operations at its Yongbyon reactor.
Ambassador Christopher Hill, who heads the U.S. delegation for the Six-Party Talks aimed at ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programs, is in Beijing for the fifth round of talks that include North and South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and the United States. The goal of this round of talks is to establish implementation procedures to the agreement reached on September 19 in which North Korea agreed in principle to abandon its nuclear weapons.
But in his remarks to reporters before and after meetings November 9 and November 10, Hill noted: "[S]ince September 19, which is when we completed the agreed principles, Yongbyon has continued to operate. In operating, it's continuing to produce material that through reprocessing can be turned into weapons-grade plutonium. Every day that goes on, the amount of this plutonium theoretically can increase. That is our concern and that means that we have a bigger problem than when we ended on September 19."
"I think the time to stop reprocessing -- the time to stop that reactor -- is now," he said. "Once that is stopped, we would look forward to DPRK's [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] making a declaration of what it has in the way of nuclear programs. We can then get on with the task of ridding the Korean Peninsula of this very dangerous material."
"[D]o you know how you build up trust?" he asked rhetorically. "You live up to the agreement."
He said the United States is prepared "to fulfill all of our undertakings, but frankly we've got to get going on this problem with plutonium. We think that the time to stop this production is now, and DPRK already knows that."
Hill said the North Korean delegation is "not prepared at this point to tell us when they will shut off the reactor. ... The DPRK has taken the position that they will not shut it down until there's an implementation plan -- that is, a fully elaborated plan on when they will actually abandon their nuclear programs. We've told them that they are, I think, wasting a lot of time and energy keeping that thing operating because whatever it produces is going to have to be returned and we will be absolutely careful to make sure that we have collected every bit of fissionable material.”
Hill said the U.S. delegation has made clear that North Korea must disarm and comply with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards before the United States and other Six-Party members can proceed with discussions on topics such as the provision of a light-water reactor to meet North Korea's energy needs.
Hill allowed that the North Korean delegation did show "a willingness to move forward and to figure out how to implement the principles."
"I think the DPRK needs to understand that we need to move swiftly on denuclearization, and in fact that denuclearization is the first step in the agreement," Hill said. "We'd like to see denuclearization in the fastest track." He also emphasized the need for North Korea to make a full disclosure of the nuclear programs now in place.
Hill predicted that the opening session of the fifth round of Six-Party Talks probably would last only three days because most of the delegates will be attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meetings set to begin November 12 in Busan, South Korea.
"Even though this is only three days and we all have to break in order to get to APEC," Hill observed, "there is a strong sense among all six delegations that we really want to make progress in these three days, so that when we come back for the second session of the fifth round of the Six-Party Talks, we'll be able to make further progress …."
"I think the issue is how to come up with an implementation plan and get moving," he said.
"The good news," Hill said, "is that everyone is committed to this process …. I'm hopeful that we can move ahead."