1. NKorea Agrees to Disable Nuclear Facilities by October
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North Korea agreed on Saturday to completely disable its main nuclear facilities by the end of October and to allow thorough site inspections to verify that all necessary steps had been taken.
The deal was announced as the latest round of six-nation disarmament talks concluded in Beijing, having restarted Thursday after a nine-month hiatus.
In return for Pyongyang deactivating its Yongbyon reactor, the other five parties guaranteed delivery of all heavy fuel oil promised in exchange by the end of the same month, a joint communique said.
North Korea "will work to complete the disablement of the Yongbyon nuclear facilities by the end of October 2008," the statement said.
The head of the Chinese delegation, Wu Dawei, read out the broad details of how to ensure that North Korea keeps it word.
The parties agreed to a verification mechanism that would include experts from the six nations to visit facilities, review documents and interview technical personnel, Wu said.
He added the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, could also be asked to assist in verification if necessary.
US nuclear envoy Christopher Hill said the technical details of the verification process were yet to be decided, but that Washington hoped it would be finalised by the end of next month.
"We'd like a protocol to be reached within 45 days and secondly to actually begin the verification within 45 days," Hill told reporters.
"We're anticipating that and don't see any obstacles," he said.
However, South Korea's chief envoy Kim Sook predicted that setting the rules for the verification would be "a very tricky and difficult process".
"We maintain that whatever facilities should be inspected without any restrictions in order to completely verify the declaration, and several other countries share our view," he said.
The latest six-nation discussions were focused on reaching agreement on how to verify the declaration North Korea delivered last month on abandoning its nuclear programmes.
The six-nation talks -- which involve China as host, the two Koreas, the United States, Japan and Russia -- began in 2003 with the aim of persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear programmes.
But they had not been held since October, as the other parties involved waited for North Korea to give an account of the nuclear programmes it had spent decades developing.
The declaration was a key part of the six-nation disarmament accord reached last year, under which the North agreed to abandon its nuclear programmes in exchange for an array of diplomatic incentives and economic aid.
The progress came as South Korea's new conservative president Lee Myung-Bak offered North Korea an olive branch Friday after months of hostility, proposing talks on ways to implement summit agreements reached by his predecessors.
The North shut down its Yongbyon reactor -- which produced the material for the nation's historic atom bomb test in 2006 -- in July last year and has continued to disable it in stages.
The third and final phase of the disarmament deal calls for the North to permanently dismantle its atomic plants and hand over all nuclear material and weaponry.
In return, it would get more energy aid, restored diplomatic ties with the United States and Japan, and a formal peace treaty to officially end the 1950-1953 Korean War.
2. North Korea to Let Experts Inspect Nuclear Sites
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North Korea agreed to disable its nuclear plant by October and allow experts to inspect the site and documents, China's Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei said today.
``The parties reached an important consensus,'' Wu said after a six-nation meeting aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear weapons. The three-day talks, which were held in Beijing, also involved the U.S., South Korea, Japan and Russia.
The working group under the six-nations couldn't pin down specifics such as how to check the accuracy of documents submitted by North Korea, set up reactor-site visits or conduct interviews with scientists, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told reporters.
President George W. Bush needed this round of talks to produce a verification mechanism to counter congressional criticism of his decision to remove North Korea from a U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism and nations subject to the Trading With the Enemy Act. Bush gave Congress 45-days notice of his plans after North Korea submitted a 60-page inventory on June 26.
``It's positive that the talks have resulted in a timeline to complete the second phase of the denuclearization process, and created the basis for going ahead with the third and final phase, the complete dismantle of North Korea's nuclear program,'' Koh Yu Hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, said. ``The protocol for verification will have to be sorted out, and this will likely take some time.''
The verification protocol will likely be agreed to and set in motion before the Aug. 11 deadline set by Bush, Hill said. ``We're just anticipating that and we don't see any obstacles to getting that done,'' he said.
``The plan is that delegations will take the documents and the drafts that have been shared back to their respective capitals for further work and will reconvene at an early date,'' Hill told reporters in Beijing today after the talks.
Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency may be among the experts to examine North Korea's Yongbyon reactor, today's agreement said. North Korea expelled IAEA inspectors in 2002.
The negotiators also discussed establishing a ``road map'' that will outline how North Korea will dismantle and abandon its nuclear weapons programs in the third and final phase of the disarmament effort. The group did not reach a consensus on that matter, Hill said. Bush wants North Korea's nuclear disarmament to be completed before his term ends in January.
The U.S. will continue to press North Korea on possible links to Syria on nuclear proliferation as well as concerns that the communist nation has a uranium enrichment program, Hill said.
North Korea agreed in February 2007 to disable its nuclear programs in return for normal diplomatic ties with the U.S. and Japan and economic aid equivalent to 1 million metric tons of heavy fuel oil. Kim Jong Il's regime, which conducted a nuclear test in October 2006, complained last month about the slow pace of energy assistance.
As part of the new agreement, North Korea will complete by October the disabling of its five-megawatt reactor and fuel reprocessing plant at Yongbyon, which was used to produce weapons- grade plutonium. At the same time, the remaining members of the forum will complete delivery of the heavy fuel oil.
North Korea has disabled 80 percent of its Yongbyon plant, where it produced weapons-grade plutonium, while only 40 percent of the promised energy aid has been delivered, an unidentified North Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman said, according to the official Korea Central News Agency.
Japan has refused to provide fuel oil before the resolution of the case of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korea during the 1970s and 1980s.
1. Official: US Envoy to Meet Iranian Nuke Negotiator
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In a break with past Bush administration policy, a top U.S. diplomat will for the first time join colleagues from other world powers at a meeting with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, The Associated Press has learned.
William Burns, America's third highest-ranking diplomat, will attend talks with the Iranian envoy, Saeed Jalili, in Switzerland on Saturday aimed at persuading Iran to halt activities that could lead to the development of atomic weapons, a senior U.S. official told the AP on Tuesday.
Official contacts between Iran and the United States are extremely rare and although Washington is part of a six-nation effort to get Iran to stop enriching and reprocessing uranium, the administration has shunned contacts with Tehran on the matter.
The senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of a formal announcement of Burns' plans expected on Wednesday, acknowledged a shift in the administration's approach but stressed that Burns would not meet Jalili separately and would not negotiate with him.
"This is a one-time event and he will be there to listen, not negotiate," the official said.
U.S. contact with Iran has recently been limited only to discussions about the security situation in Iraq, where Washington accuses Iran of supporting insurgents. The two countries have not had diplomatic relations since the hostage crisis at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran after the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran.
Saturday's meeting comes at a time of acutely heightened tensions between the United States and Iran, particularly after Iranian missile tests last week prompted President Bush's top aides to warn that the United States would defend its friends and interests in the Middle East.
The gathering in Geneva will be led by European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who is seeking a definitive answer from the Iranians to an offer of incentives that the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany presented last month.
The package of incentives was accompanied by a letter from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the foreign ministers of the other five countries and sets out a scenario in which Iran would get a temporary reprieve from economic and financial sanctions in exchange for freezing its enrichment activities.
Preliminary negotiations over a permanent halt could then begin, although the United States would not join them until after Iran agrees to fully suspend uranium enrichment, which can produce the fuel needed to make nuclear bombs.
The senior U.S. official said Burns would be at the meeting with Jalili to demonstrate the unity of the countries making the offer of incentives but also to reinforce Rice's signature on the letter from the foreign ministers.
But Burns will also "reiterate that our terms for negotiations remain the same: Iran must suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities," the official said.
Iran has responded to the offer through the European Union but has indicated it has no plans to stop enriching uranium ï¿½ the key demand. But there are hopes that Iran may refine its response at Saturday's meeting.
Iran says its nuclear program is purely energy-related, but the United States accuses it of trying to develop atomic arms.
On Monday, hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he will not accept any conditions on his country's disputed nuclear program during the weekend talks. He said the talks will focus instead on "common" points.
At the same time, though, he said he would welcome direct, bilateral talks with the U.S. if both parties are on "equal footing" and told state television such talks could happen "in the near future." He did not elaborate nor say whether any definite plans were under way.
1. IAEA Board at Aug. 1 Meeting Expected to Approve Nuclear Agreement with India
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Nations setting policy for the International Atomic Agency will meet next month to vote on a deal that would allow U.N. nuclear monitors to inspect some of India's nuclear facilities, the IAEA said Monday.
IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said the meeting would be held Aug. 1. The agency is expected to approve the so-called safeguards agreement, a draft of which India already has circulated among the 35 nations on the agency's board.
The board's approval would open the way for India to do business with 45 nations that export coveted nuclear fuel and technology. It is just one of several recent moves by India demonstrating its eagerness to gain access to foreign-sourced nuclear fuel and technology as it scrambles to find enough uranium to supply both its power sector and its nuclear weapons facilities.
On Friday, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government said it would hold a parliamentary confidence vote within a week to determine the future of a controversial nuclear deal with the United States.
Singh's government would have to put off the U.S. deal and face early elections if the confidence vote is defeated. His five-year term ends in May.
If ratified, the agreement would reverse three decades of U.S. policy by allowing the sale of atomic fuel and technology to India, which has not signed international nonproliferation accords but has tested nuclear weapons. India, in exchange, would open most of its civilian reactors to international inspections.
But the IAEA board must first approve the safeguards agreement, and the Nuclear Suppliers Group ï¿½ to which the U.S. belongs ï¿½ must agree to do business with New Delhi before U.S. Congress can sign off on the Washington-New Delhi agreement.
The U.S. has hailed Indian pledges to open up part of its civilian nuclear program to international perusal as a commitment by New Delhi to move closer toward nonproliferation principles.
Still, critics who have seen the draft safeguards agreement between New Delhi and the IAEA say it contains loopholes and does not specifically list the facilities to be put under agency supervision ï¿½ even though New Delhi has named them in a separate paper drawn up two years ago.
India first conducted a nuclear test 24 years ago as it broke out of its foreign-supplied civilian program to develop atomic arms.
Nuclear Suppliers Group states have restricted nuclear trade since 1992 with states that have not signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty or don't have comprehensive safeguards.
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