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'Initial Actions' on Nuclear Issue Implemented with Steady Steps
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With China showing positive view on the shutdown of the Yongbyon reactor last Saturday and six-party talks negotiators set to meet again in Beijing on Wednesday, observers are wondering to what extent the initial actions on Korean Peninsula denuclearization have been implemented.

Prevailing view among experts holds that the "initial actions for the implementation of the joint statement", or Feb. 13 agreement, a significant step for the talks, have been implemented "step by step with endeavors from all parties", but an all-around implementation "still needs time".

Negotiators signed the initial actions during the fifth round of six-party talks on Feb. 13. The nuclear issue started to record remarkable progress after six countries – North Korea, South Korea, China, the United States, Japan and Russia -- started negotiations in Aug. 2003.

"Generally, carrying out the initial actions is not a big headache. Five months passed, all parties, working very hard, hope to implement them as soon as possible," said Shi Yinhong, professor with the college of international relations under the elite Renmin University of China.

All parties concerned have agreed to implement the Sept. 2005 Joint Statement in a phased manner in line with the principle of "action for action", says the Feb. 13 agreement.

They agreed to take actions simultaneously in the initial phase, including the eventual abandonment of North Korean Yongbyon nuclear facilities, provision of economic, energy and humanitarian assistance to North Korea and the establishment of a peace and stability mechanism on the Korean Peninsula.

Reactor Shutdown

With a South Korean ship carrying 6,200 tons of heavy fuel oil arriving at North Korea's northeastern port of Songbong last Saturday, North Korea announced its shutdown of the Yongbyon reactor, a widely regarded substantial step, after a 10-member team of UN inspectors arrived in the capital Pyongyang to verify and monitor the reactor sealing.

Positive reactions on the nuclear shutdown pushed the upcoming round of six-party talks onto a favorable stage.

The Feb. 13 agreement says North Korea must declare all nuclear programs and disable all existing nuclear facilities, including graphite-moderated reactors and its post-treatment plant, and other parties must provide a total of one million tons of heavy fuel oil or equivalent aid, with the initial shipment of 50,000 tons.

Tao Wenzhao, a research fellow with the American Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the current shutdown of nuclear facilities is a "reversible" action, which means the facilities can be reopened at any time.

"Only after complete denuclearization can facilities become really dead," said Tao.

Barrier ahead

Experts believe technical problems still remain, such as dealing with nuclear facilities outside the Yongbyon reactor, North Korea's leading nuclear research center, and the fact that most assistance promise has yet to be materialized.

As main negotiators, North Korea and the United States should start bilateral talks aimed at resolving pending bilateral issues and moving toward full diplomatic relations.
The US will start removing the designation of North Korea as a state- sponsor of terrorism and terminating the Trading with the Enemy Act concerning North Korea, says the agreement.

North Korea and Japan will start bilateral talks aiming to normalize their relations in line with the Pyongyang Declaration, based on settling "unfortunate past" and "issues of concern", the document says.

Working groups over five subjects enshrined in the agreement have already been initiated, covering a wide range of issues such as a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula, normalization of relations among countries involved, establishment of a peace and security mechanism in Northeast Asia and economic and energy cooperation among countries concerned.

However, analysts pointed out that the inauguration of working groups does not mean the start of a normal operation. The upcoming talks will discuss how to push forward the agenda of the five working groups, observers predicted.

"Since verification and denuclearization involve many technical issues, pushing ahead the North Korea nuclear issue requires patience of all parties," said Tao, the researcher.

(Xinhua News Agency July 17, 2007)

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