North Korea agreed Wednesday to disable its main nuclear reactor complex and provide details on its nuclear programs. Chief U.S. nuclear negotiator with North Korea Christopher Hill talks to the NewsHour about the new agreement and the state of relations with Pyongyang.
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One year after North Korea announced its first successful test of a nuclear device, the country has reached an agreement with the U.S., South Korea, and three other nations to dismantle key parts of its nuclear program.
CHUN YUNG-WOO, South Korean Chief Nuclear Envoy (through translator):
If the reporting and disabling of North Korea's nuclear programs goes smoothly within this year, we can expect the next step of scrapping the nuclear programs starting next year.
Under the accord, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's official name, agreed by the end of the year to: disable the five-megawatt reactor and two other plants at Yongbyon, the country's principal nuclear facility; and provide "a complete and correct declaration of all its nuclear programs"; in addition, the North "reaffirmed its commitment not to transfer nuclear materials, technology or know-how."
The accord was reached during the so-called six-party talks, which have continued in fits and starts for years. The talks included China, the U.S., South Korea, Russia, Japan and North Korea.
And we're joined now by the top U.S. negotiator on the North Korean nuclear issue. Christopher Hill is assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs.
Well, Ambassador Hill, what exactly does disabling these facilities mean? Will they actually be destroyed?
CHRISTOPHER HILL, Assistant Secretary of State: Well, the concept of disabling is, you know — we've gotten them shut down, but, frankly, they could kick out the inspectors, take the seals off, and turn them back on. So the idea of disabling is to make it difficult to turn it back on.
In short, you'll take stuff out of it. You'll take parts, et cetera. And when you try to — by the time you've put it back together, many months have elapsed. Now, of course, we don't want that ever to happen. What we're looking for is to go from disabling to complete dismantling, where you take it apart, take it out of the country, and get rid of the thing.
So are there clear ways in this agreement to ensure that that does not happen and that they are not turned on again?
Well, that's correct. I mean, we have a disabling plan. We'd like to do a little more, and maybe we can do a little more. But I think what's important is the six parties have asked the U.S. to send a team in there, and at the invitation of the North Koreans.
So we'll be going in, in the next couple of weeks, and maybe as early as next week, to begin the task of disabling this. But I want to emphasize that the goal here is not just disabling the reactor, which is the way by which they have been producing more plutonium. It's also to get rid of the plutonium they've already produced. So we've got a ways to go here, but I think it is an important step.