N. Korea agrees to first denuclearize, receive benefits later: official

Byun Duk-kun

North Korea wants to receive various types of assistance, including development-aimed investment, in return for disabling its key nuclear facilities under a landmark denuclearization deal signed February, but it understands and agrees that the benefits could come a bit later than its steps to disarm, a South Korean official said Wednesday.

The North’s apparent concession removes a major hurdle to completing the denuclearization process before the end of the year, as the other countries in six-nation talks on ending North Korea’s nuclear ambition long believed the communist nation would never agree to get rid of its nuclear facilities unless incentives were provided before or simultaneously.

“The North Korean side said that even if its denuclearization steps are carried out in a short amount of time, and the provision of the promised energy and economic assistance takes relatively longer than its denuclearization steps, it will understand there can be a difference of time required and will exercise flexibility based on mutual trust,” a South Korean official told reporters, requesting that he remain anonymous.

North Korea took the position at a working meeting of delegates from South Korea, the U.S., China, Japan and Russia that opened at the inter-Korean border village of Panmunjom on Tuesday for a two-day run.

The talks resumed earlier Wednesday after the North’s delegation, headed by the country’s deputy chief of mission to the United Nations in New York, Kim Myong-kil, crossed the heavily fortified border to the South Korean side of the joint security area.

The main focus of this week’s meeting was to figure out how to ship by the end of the year the 950,000 tons of heavy oil or equivalent aid promised to the impoverished North in the February accord, a timeline insisted upon by the U.S., even though the communist nation has a storage capacity of only 200,000 tons a year.

Under the February agreement, signed by the two Koreas, the U.S., Japan, China and Russia, North Korea can receive energy assistance equivalent to 950,000 tons of heavy fuel oil in exchange for disabling its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon and submitting a complete list of its nuclear programs.

South Korean delegates earlier said that the first day of talks provided an opportunity to hear what North Korea wants, and that they anticipated more “in-depth” discussions with the North on what is within reach and how far the North should move toward denuclearization to get rewards.

North Korean delegates on Tuesday said their country wants to receive the promised oil, as well as what South Korean officials call “investment-based” assistance to help rebuild its dilapidated energy industry.

Pyongyang’s demand became clearer Wednesday, according to the South Korean official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The North Koreans said their country wants to continue receiving 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil each month, apparently until the end of the year, and the rest in “support and equipment for repairing and maintaining the North’s energy-generating facilities,” the official said.

South Korea has provided 50,000 tons of heavy oil to the North for shutting down the Yongbyon facilities as the first phase step in the February agreement, while Beijing, the host of the six-way nuclear disarmament talks, has reportedly offered to soon begin shipping the first 50,000 tons of the promised 950,000 tons in the second phase.

Pyongyang has said it will not completely denuclearize unless it is provided with enough benefits — including nuclear power plants.

South Korean officials who attended the two-day working meeting here said the subject never came up during the course of what the chief North Korean delegate, Kim, called “very productive and serious discussions.”


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