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Politics

N.Korea agrees to disable nuclear program

GENEVA (Reuters) - North Korea has agreed to fully account for and disable its nuclear program by the end of this year, the top U.S. nuclear negotiator said on Sunday.

“We had very good, very substantive talks,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill said after two days of meetings in Geneva to tackle the next phase of an international deal to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear technology and facilities.

“One thing that we agreed on is that the DPRK will provide a full declaration of all of their nuclear programs and will disable their nuclear programs by the end of this year, 2007,” Hill told reporters, referring to North Korea by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Kim Kye-gwan, Pyongyang’s chief nuclear envoy, told reporters he was pleased with the talks.

“We agreed about many things ... We showed clear willingness to declare and dismantle all nuclear facilities,” he said, without specifying a date.

North Korea agreed two years ago in “six-party” negotiations with the United States, South Korea, Japan, China and Russia to abandon its nuclear program in return for economic and diplomatic benefits.

But in October 2006 it tested a nuclear explosive for the first time, raising questions about its intent.

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A fresh six-party agreement reached last February has resulted in the admission of international nuclear inspectors and the shutdown of North Korea’s Yongbyon complex, which had produced bomb-grade plutonium -- in return for 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil.

SECOND PHASE

The next phase of the deal calls for a full declaration and disabling of all nuclear facilities in return for 950,000 tons of fuel oil, or the equivalent value in aid, from South Korea, China, Russia and the United States.

Washington believes the Stalinist state may have enough nuclear fuel to make more than eight or nine atomic weapons. It also suspects North Korea may have a hitherto undeclared uranium-based nuclear program.

Hill did not say what, if anything, the United States had offered in Geneva in return for the latest pledge.

But he confirmed the delegations had discussed the terms under which Washington would drop North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism. That designation imposes a ban on arms-related sales and keeps the economically isolated country from receiving some types of U.S. aid.

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Kim said North Korea would receive “political and economic compensation” for the Geneva agreement, but gave no details.

Hill said it was critical that Pyongyang account for the entirety of its nuclear facilities, and any highly enriched uranium it has, in its report to the six-party group:

“When we say ‘all’ nuclear programs, we mean ‘all’.”

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Further details will be worked out at a six-party plenary session hosted by China in mid-September, Hill said.

U.S. President George W. Bush, who in 2002 labeled North Korea, Iraq and Iran an “axis of evil”, initially refused to negotiate with North Korea and now has less than 17 months in office to achieve its nuclear disarmament through diplomacy.

The day before the Geneva talks began, Washington announced it would offer a food aid package to help North Korea recover from severe flooding that killed at least 600 people, left hundreds of thousands homeless and destroyed crops in a country already struggling with chronic food shortages.

Additional reporting by Anne Richardson and Vincent Fribault

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