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IAEA confirms N Korea plant shutdown

UN inspectors have verified that North Korea has shut down its sole functioning nuclear reactor.
AP | By Kwang Tae-Kim, Seoul
UPDATED ON JUL 17, 2007 01:17 AM IST

UN inspectors have verified that North Korea has shut down its sole functioning nuclear reactor, the chief of the watchdog agency said on Monday, confirming Pyongyang's first step to halt production of atomic weapons in nearly five years.

"Our inspectors are there. They verified the shutting down of the reactor yesterday," said Mohamed ElBaradei, chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"The process has been going quite well and we have had good cooperation from North Korea. It's a good step in the right direction," ElBaradei said, speaking in Bangkok ahead of an event sponsored by Thailand's Science Ministry.

North Korea pledged in an international accord in February to shut the reactor at Yongbyon and dismantle its nuclear programs in return for 1 million tons of oil and political concessions.

However, it stalled for several months because of a separate, but now-resolved dispute with the US over frozen bank funds. The shutdown over the weekend, confirmed by a 10-member team of IAEA inspectors who arrived in North Korea on Saturday, was the first on-the-ground achievement toward scaling back Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions since the international standoff began in late 2002.

The Yongbyon reactor generates plutonium for atomic bombs; North Korea conducted its first nuclear test explosion in October. On Monday, South Korea sent the second of two initial shipments of what eventually will be 50,000 tons of oil to reward North Korea specifically for the reactor shutdown. They first arrived on Saturday, prompting North Korea to begin the shutdown of the Yongbyon. The second shipment departed on Monday, South Korea's Unification Minister Lee Jae-joung said.

The North's Foreign Ministry said on Sunday that further progress under the disarmament accord would now depend "on what practical measures the US and Japan, in particular, will take to roll back their hostile policies toward" North Korea.

The ministry noted that North Korea shut its reactor even before receiving all 50,000 tons of oil, adding that this was "a manifestation of its good faith towards the agreement," according to a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency.

North Korea is set to participate in a renewed session of arms talks this week in Beijing, along with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the US.

Hill, a US assistant secretary of state, has said the negotiations would focus on a "work plan and a timeframe" for how disarmament would proceed, adding that he planned to meet his North Korean counterpart on Tuesday ahead of the formal start of talks.

Officials cautioned the road ahead would be difficult. "It's a complicated process," ElBaradei said. "Ultimately we will have to go and make sure the nuclear weapons arsenal of (North Korea) are dismantled. It is a very positive step we are taking this week. But we have a long ways to go."

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