North Korea to freeze nuclear reactor in 2 months

Officials from six nations met on Friday to discuss a draft agreement that would reportedly require North Korea to freeze key elements of its nuclear weapons programme within two months.

The agreement drafted by China calls for North Korea to freeze key weapons-related facilities, including a 5-megawatt nuclear reactor, within two months in return for energy aid, South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted sources as saying.

The agreement proposes setting up five working groups to oversee the process of denuclearization in North Korea, the anonymous sources told the agency.

The draft was circulated late Thursday after talks resumed between North Korea, the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.

Host nation China said it was taking an 'open attitude' to the duration and content of the talks.

US chief negotiator Christopher Hill said he planned to hold a series of bilateral meetings on Friday.

Hill was expected to meet his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye Gwan, who on Thursday said North Korea would discuss 'early steps' in implementing a September 2005 joint statement of principles for ending its nuclear programme.

Sources told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa that Kim and Hill 'significantly narrowed' their differences during bilateral talks in Berlin last month.

North Korean officials 'showed their readiness' to reciprocate after the US raised the possibility of eliminating trade barriers and removing North Korea from its list of state sponsors of terrorism, a source familiar with the Berlin talks said.

North Korea is reportedly negotiating for some 500,000 tons of fuel oil in exchange for suspending operation of a Yongbyon nuclear reactor and agreeing to IAEA inspections, according to Japanese media, reports.

In Beijing, Japan's chief negotiator, Kenichiro Sasae, said the six sides still had much ground to cover.

"It's too early to discuss whether the draft agreement is acceptable as each country is to present its ideas and I believe China has its own ideas," Sasae told reporters.

South Korea 's envoy, Chun Yung-woo, also added sounded a note of caution. The draft was a "fine one" as a basis for discussions, Chun told reporters, adding: "I don't want to prejudge whether the discussions will be smooth."

North Korea's envoy Kim Kye-gwan told the delegates on Thursday that Pyongyang was "ready to make its first step" toward denuclearisation, Russia's Interfax reported, quoting an unidentified source close to the negotiations.

In September 2005, negotiators agreed on a joint statement -- a sketch map of the nuclear disarmament steps Pyongyang needed to take to secure fuel and economic aid, as well as political acceptance from its longtime adversary, the United States.

But that deal languished after the United States said in late 2005 that North Korea was laundering income from counterfeiting U.S. currency and other illicit business, prompting a crackdown on a Macau bank that drew angry protests from Pyongyang, Reuters reports.

North Korea and the U.S. agreed in 1994 for Pyongyang to freeze its plutonium-based nuclear reactor in exchange for energy aid. The North promised to eventually dismantle the facility following construction there of two light-water nuclear reactors for electricity, a type more difficult to divert for weapons use.

However, that deal fell apart in late 2002 after Washington accused North Korea of a secret uranium enrichment program. The North expelled international inspectors and restarted its reactor, and is believed to have amassed enough radioactive material for at least a half-dozen bombs.

The six-nation talks _ involving China, Japan, Russia, the U.S. and the two Koreas _ began in August 2003, but the North has twice boycotted them for more than a year. The latest was over a U.S. decision to blacklist a Macau bank where the North held accounts, saying it was complicit in the regime's alleged counterfeiting and money laundering, the AP reports.

Source: agencies

Prepared by Alexander Timoshik

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Author`s name Alex Naumov