SEOUL North Korea appears ready to abandon the source of its weapons-grade plutonium but there is a still a long way to go before Pyongyang scraps its entire nuclear arms program, a top South Korean nuclear envoy said on Friday.
In a breakthrough deal, impoverished North Korea agreed earlier this month at six-way talks to seal its main nuclear reactor and source of its fissile material in return for an initial 50,000 tonnes of fuel or aid of similar value.
"They made the decision to give up at least the existing nuclear programs and even facilities -- that means to forgo any additional production of plutonium," Chun Yung-woo, Seoul's chief envoy to the talks, told reporters.
Chun said that under the deal reached in Beijing, the faster and farther North Korea went toward shutting down its sole operating nuclear reactor and reprocessing facilities, the more aid the impoverished state would receive.
"The fact that they opted for 'more for more' means that that they are ready to go all the way to disablement."
"We have a long way to go and a steep road ahead," Chun said of the process to end Pyongyang's nuclear arms program.
Vice President Dick Cheney, a harsh critic of Pyongyang's rulers, said in Sydney on Friday that the North Korea deal was a step toward disarmament but also raised concern about whether the Stalinist state would follow through.
"In light of North Korea's missile test last July, its nuclear test in October and its record of proliferation and human rights abuses, the regime in Pyongyang has much to prove, yet this agreement represents the first hopeful step toward a better future for the North Korean people," he said.
Chun said working groups would soon convene to work out details of implementing the agreement struck at the six-way talks. As a part of that, North Korea's top nuclear envoy could soon head to the United States, he said,
Envoy Kim Kye-gwan may visit New York in early March and discuss with U.S. officials benefits the reclusive state would receive for scrapping its nuclear arms plans, such as setting up diplomatic ties with Washington, Yonhap cited diplomatic sources as saying.
Chun said the agreement reached in Beijing called for North Korea to move quickly from shutdown to disablement.
"Shutting down the reactor and facilities, that is not enough," Chun said. "This shutdown is for abandonment."
(With additional reporting by Caren Bohan in Australia)