Hill Welcomes North Korean Opening to IAEA Inspectors

By Jacquelyn S. Porth
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - The United States welcomes North Korea’s decision to invite international weapons inspectors back to Yongbyon as part of a multilateral agreement to shut down the North Korean nuclear complex there.

Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs and lead U.S. envoy to the Six-Party Talks, told reporters in Beijing June 18 that North Korea’s invitation - accepted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) - is a very important first step in the disarmament process and one that “we have been looking forward to for some time.”

The Six-Party Talks involving North Korea, South Korea, Russia, Japan, China and the United States, seek to eliminate nuclear weapons from the Korean Peninsula.

Hill said the disarmament process will involve shutting down, taking apart and then sealing off North Korea’s nuclear facilities so they are rendered “unusable for the future.”  The verification process will involve installing on-site television cameras that must be monitored by independent inspectors.  An IAEA team will visit Pyongyang June 25 to determine what will happen next, and Hill said they are ready to move swiftly.

Hill said the process of disabling the nuclear complex, once under way, can be completed fairly quickly - within days or a few weeks at most - and probably will be done toward the end of 2007.  Technically, the official said, the process “is quite doable,” as long as the political will exists to do so.

Valuable time has been lost, Hill said, adding that the partners in the Six-Party Talks want to move quickly and, to the extent possible, make up time.  The schedule laid out in the February 13 agreement reached by the Six-Party Talks participants originally called for North Korea to shut down and seal the Yongbyon reactor, allow international verification and provide a list of all of its nuclear programs to the other Six-Party Talks participants within 60 days. (See related article.)

If the parties to the diplomatic process can get past this juncture, Hill said, there should be sufficient momentum to keep going forward.

Hill said he is looking forward to continued close consultations with the other nations engaged in the Six-Party Talks.  He has been in Beijing to hear China’s assessment of the evolving situation and will continue his consultations with South Korea and Japan.  He said the heads of each delegation may meet in early July.

The most recent step forward was achieved through a great deal of cooperation among the Six-Party Talks participants, especially with the help of the Russian delegation, which “obviously worked very hard to ensure that the Banco Delta Asia (BDA) transaction could be completed.”  North Korea had demanded the release of more than $25 million frozen at the Macau-based bank before it would continue participating in the Six-Party Talks. Macau authorities unblocked the funds April 10, but many banks remained reluctant to accept the funds due to concerns about possible money laundering or other illegal financial activities at BDA. (See related article.)

Resolving the banking issue took longer than anyone anticipated, Hill said, but now there can be a shift away from banking matters to the important subject of North Korea's nuclear activities.

The issue of transferring large amounts of heavy fuel oil to North Korea - part of an emergency energy aid package promised in the February 13 agreement - also must still be resolved.

“There are capacity issues on how much heavy fuel oil North Korea can receive per month,” Hill said, but he suggested that the first of 50,000 tons could begin to move within weeks.

For more information, see Limiting Nuclear Weapons and The U.S. and the Korean Peninsula.

A transcript of Hill’s remarks is available on the State Department’s Web site.