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US Envoy Cautiously Welcomes North Korean Nuclear Shutdown

  • VOA News

A top US nuclear negotiator is welcoming North Korea's reported shutdown of its main nuclear facility, but warns that more work is needed to end the country's weapons programs.

Assistant US Secretary of State Christopher Hill called the shutdown of the North's Yongbyon reactor a "first step" that must be followed by other steps. He said he expected to be briefed on the shutdown by International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors later on Sunday.

An IAEA team plans to spend weeks verifying the complete closure of the Yongbyon facility. Inspectors also intend to set up monitoring equipment to ensure the reactor is not restarted.

North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and restarted its Yongbyon reactor in early 2003, after Washington accused it of running a secret uranium enrichment program to make nuclear weapons. Pyongyang also exploded a nuclear device last year.

Under an arms agreement reached earlier this year, North Korea will receive one million tons of fuel oil or equivalent aid, plus diplomatic and security guarantees, if it permanently disables all of its nuclear facilities.

Pyongyang said last week it would suspend operations at key nuclear facilities as soon as it received a promised first oil shipment from South Korea. A South Korean tanker delivered 62-hundred tons of oil to the North Saturday.

Since 2003, envoys from the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia have tried to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear efforts. Negotiators from the six nations meet Wednesday in Beijing to plan the next steps in North Korea's disarmament process.

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