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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

N.Korea Breakthrough

Deal agreed to shut key North Korea nuclear facilities

North Korea agreed to shut down key nuclear facilities in exchange for badly needed fuel, but later appeared to backtrack, with official media saying the deal only required the "temporary suspension" of its nuclear sites.

In return, the United States would hold direct talks on diplomatic relations with North Korea - a member of US President George W. Bush's "axis of evil" - and begin looking at removing it from the US list of terrorist nations.

The deal came after nearly a week of gruelling six-nation talks in Beijing aimed at convincing the secretive Stalinist state, which tested an atomic bomb for the first time in October, to abandon its nuclear weapons.

Chinese negotiator Wu Dawei said an "important consensus" had been reached at the talks, which would resume in Beijing on March 19 to verify that the deal is being properly implemented.

Under the deal, North Korea would have 60 days to shut down its main Yongbyon nuclear reactor and allow United Nations nuclear inspectors back into the country.

Meanwhile, the energy-starved regime would receive a first tranche of 50,000 tonnes of fuel oil -part of an eventual one million tonnes if the accord progresses as spelt out and the North permanently disables its key nuclear facilities.

Chief US envoy Christopher Hill said he was pleased with the outcome but warned there was still a long way to go before the end goal of a denuclearised North Korea was achieved.

South Korea, the United States, China, Russia and Japan have been holding nearly four years of on-again, off-again talks with the North, one of the poorest and most isolated nations in the world.

According to the new agreement, North Korea would "shut down and seal for the purpose of eventual abandonment" its main Yongbyon nuclear plant and make an accounting of all its nuclear programmes and capabilities.

Included in that list would be plutonium already extracted from fuel rods, which outside analysts have estimated would be enough for the North to make several nuclear weapons.

But the public announcement made no mention of previous US allegations that the North was secretly enriching uranium -- a charge that led to the breakdown of a previous agreement to help Pyongyang build nuclear reactors for energy.

North Korea had repeatedly said it would not make concessions until the United States ended financial sanctions aimed at blocking its access to the international banking system.

The joint announcement did say that North Korea would address another tricky bilateral dispute - its abductions of Japanese nationals in the 1970s.

But within an hour of the announcement, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso said his country would not provide energy aid until "progress" was made on the abductions issue. Japan believes the North is still holding some of its people - AFP.