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U.S. team to begin disabling Korean nuke plant

U.S. technicians are likely to begin dismantling a key North Korean nuclear complex by the end of this week, the chief U.S. envoy in talks to disable the North's nuclear capabilities said on Thursday.
/ Source: Reuters

U.S. technicians are likely to begin dismantling a key North Korean nuclear complex by the end of this week, the chief U.S. envoy in talks to disable the North's nuclear capabilities said on Thursday.

The team of U.S. experts flies to Pyongyang on Thursday to oversee disabling the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, which is capable of making plutonium for nuclear bombs.

U.S. envoy Christopher Hill said the U.S. team had "a specific list of measures" and would arrive at Yongbyon to begin the dismantling process on Friday or Saturday.

"The first actual physical acts of disablement will probably be at the end of the week," Hill told reporters. "We are satisfied that we have an overall plan that will be effective and that will provide the disablement that we need."

The moves follow a breakthrough February deal under which North Korea, which tested a nuclear device last year in defiance of international warnings, is to shut down its Yongbyon plant and admit U.N. nuclear monitors.

Hill met his North Korean counterpart, Kim Kye-gwan, on Wednesday to discuss steps to disable Yongbyon.

Measured steps
Following lengthy six-party talks in Beijing involving North and South Korea, the United States, Japan, Russia and China, Pyongyang agreed that by the end of 2007 it would have disabled its main nuclear facilities, a term meaning crippling the plants, but short of outright destruction.

North Korea also agreed to fully disclose all its atomic activities by the end of the year and Hill said on Wednesday the process of making such a declaration should begin within the next two weeks.

In exchange, the impoverished North will receive 1 million tons of heavy fuel oil or equivalent aid. The United States will also move towards taking North Korea off a U.S. terrorism blacklist.

Hill said he anticipated teams would be at Yongbyon for "the next couple of months."

"Disablement is not the last stage, I can't emphasize that enough," he said. "We need to get on with the task of actual abandonment of the weaponized plutonium and we also need to dismantle irreversibly these facilities."

The process has not been without critics.

John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, wrote in an editorial in the Wall Street Journal on Thursday that a "disablement" of the facility would not be the same as the "dismantlement."

"Let's see real verification, and leave trust until later," he wrote, arguing that the U.S. and rest of the world should remain suspicious of North Korea.