Pyongyang is ready to declare all its nuclear programs and disable the existing nuclear facilities "at a proper time" -- which Seoul believes could be "within this year."
Kim Kye-gwan, the chief nuclear negotiator of North Korea, said yesterday that his country is ready to cooperate to make the Korean Peninsula nuclear free, but the precondition "for us to do so is that other countries should fulfill their obligations."
He made the remarks as chief delegates to the six-party talks concluded their first day of meetings in Beijing.
Chun Yung-woo, the top South Korean negotiator, told reporters that Kim, during a bilateral meeting, expressed Pyongyang's willingness to declare all of its nuclear programs and disable its nuclear facilities "in five or six months or even within this year."
The step will be in line with the second phase measures under the February 13 agreement in which North Korea promised to shut down and eventually disable its key nuclear facilities at Yongbyon.
Chief negotiators of the six-nation talks, which also involve China, the US, Russian and Japan, yesterday discussed at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse the initial steps being taken by North Korea on denuclearizing the peninsula as well as future targets.
"The atmosphere at the talks was as bright as Beijing's skies and was more serious and businesslike than any other time," Chun told reporters after the 90-minute meeting as the Chinese capital was bathed in sunshine.
A series of bilateral or trilateral meetings were held early yesterday prior to the chief delegates' meeting in the afternoon.
US envoy Christopher Hill said he expected a chairman's statement when the talks end today as scheduled that would lay out a broad framework for the next phase of the disarmament process, which would involve fully disabling Yongbyon and North Korea making a full declaration of its nuclear activities.
Subsequent talks would work out "precise benchmarks," Hill said.
"There was a lot of agreement around the table about what needs to be done in this phase," he said.
Hill said on Tuesday he wanted the second phase completed by the end of the year, but he declined to say whether the statement would set out that date.
Chief Japanese delegate Kenichiro Sasae said in the evening that the six parties have yet to come to an agreement over the timeframe.
But the Japanese envoy noted that he got the impression North Korea was prepared to discuss fully the next steps it is to implement.
The meeting came shortly after the UN nuclear watchdog announced yesterday that North Korea had shut down its nuclear reactor and four related facilities, a major step in efforts to give up its nuclear programs.
"Yes, we now verify that all the five nuclear facilities have been shut down," Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told reporters in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, referring to the Yongbyon reactor complex.
"The team applied the necessary seals and other measures as appropriate," the IAEA said in a statement in Vienna. "The installation of the necessary surveillance and monitoring equipment by the IAEA team is expected to be completed in the next few weeks."
(China Daily July 19, 2007)