Image: Sung Kim
Sung Kim, left, chief Korea expert for the U.S. State Department speaks with an unidentified North Korean official at a hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea, late Friday.
updated 9/15/2007 10:20:31 AM ET 2007-09-15T14:20:31

Recent talks between a U.S.-led team of nuclear experts and North Korea were “businesslike” and “positive,” an official said Saturday, raising hopes for a deal soon on how to disable the North’s nuclear facilities.

Lim Sung-nam, South Korea’s No. 2 nuclear negotiator, made the remark after receiving a briefing from the American team of experts who returned to Seoul earlier in the day after a five-day survey of the North’s main atomic facilities.

“The talks between the U.S. and the North this time were conducted in a businesslike manner in a very positive atmosphere,” Lim told reporters. “Additional consultations and a decision are expected at next week’s six-party talks.”

The remarks strongly suggest that the upcoming nuclear disarmament talks in Beijing are expected to produce an agreement with the North on how to disable the communist nation’s nuclear facilities be year’s end, so they cannot produce material for bombs.

The nuclear negotiations, aimed at ridding North Korea of its nuclear weapons and programs, bring together China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the United States. South Korean and U.S. officials said the talks would resume next week, although host China has not made any official announcement.

In North Korea, the American experts teamed up with Chinese and Russian specialists to survey the atomic facilities at Yongbyon, 60 miles north of Pyongyang.

They also held talks with North Korean officials in Pyongyang. The discussions produced a “detailed plan” on disabling Yongbyon facilities, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported, citing Chu Xuming, the Chinese member of the three-nation team.

North Korea is required to disable Yongbyon in exchange for economic aid and political concessions under a February deal reached at six-party talks. In July, the North closed its sole functioning reactor at Yongbyon, as well as other facilities, ahead of their disablement.

Appears committed to disarming
The country agreed at bilateral talks with the U.S. earlier this month to complete the disablement by year’s end.

The North’s invitation to the American nuclear experts was the latest sign that it is serious about disarming.

North Korea, which conducted its first-ever nuclear test last October, has been cooperative in the nuclear disarmament talks as Washington made a series of conciliatory moves, including meeting Pyongyang’s demand in a separate banking dispute with the U.S.

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The experts’ trip came amid suspicions about possible North Korean cooperation with Syria on a nuclear facility.

A senior U.S. nuclear official, Andrew Semmel, said Friday that North Koreans were in Syria and that the government in Damascus may have had contacts with “secret suppliers” to obtain nuclear equipment.

Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the chief U.S. nuclear negotiator with North Korea, said such reports are an “important reminder of the need to accelerate the process we’re already engaged in,” referring to the six-nation talks aimed at ridding the North of its nuclear weapons and programs.

“It does not change the goal we are aiming for,” Hill said.

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