(photo credit: AP)
South Korea's chief nuclear negotiator said Friday that talks on disarming North Korea's nuclear arsenal are to resume this month as Seoul prepared to ship a first batch of promised energy aid to the North next week.
Chun Yung-woo said the exact date of the talks would likely be announced next week.
"A meeting among the head delegates of the six-party talks will be held this month," Chun told reporters in Beijing following discussions with his Chinese counterpart, Wu Dawei. "No date has been determined. It looks like China, as the host country, will decide after listening to the other countries' opinions."
Chun later returned to South Korea.
China is the host of the so-called six-nation forum, which also involves the two Koreas, Japan, Russia and the United States. The last round of negotiations was held in Beijing in March.
Efforts to push the talks forward and implement a February agreement that committed the North to shutting down its main reactor in exchange for economic aid and political concessions had been held up by a financial dispute between Pyongyang and Washington. The issue was finally resolved last week.
South Korea announced Friday it will send on July 12 the first shipment of energy assistance promised to North Korea as a reward for shutting down and closing the Yongbyon reactor.
The North has yet to shutter the reactor. But South Korean and U.S. officials have said the aid delivery could still begin in an apparent display of confidence that the North would live up to its promise.
The shipment of 6,200 metric tons of heavy fuel oil from South Korea is part of a 50,000 ton energy aid package promised to the North in the so-called initial phase of the February agreement.
The communist North is to ultimately get additional aid equivalent to 950,000 tons when it irreversibly disables its reactor and declares all its nuclear programs.
The first oil shipment will leave the South Korean port of Ulsan next Thursday to the North's eastern Sunbong port, South Korea's Unification Ministry said in a statement.
South Korea "will do its best to complete (the shipment) by early August," the ministry said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency is getting ready to approve plans on how to oversee the shutdown after its delegation's trip last week to the North, which included a visit to the Yongbyon facility. That visit marked the first time U.N. nuclear inspectors had been inside the North since they were expelled in late 2002.
The agency is expected to complete its monitoring plans as early as Monday.
Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the IAEA, will be in Seoul next week for an international atomic technology conference, South Korea's Science and Technology Ministry said in a statement Thursday.
Although his three-day trip that begins Wednesday is not linked to the North Korean nuclear issue, it will include a meeting with Foreign Minister Song Min-soon, the ministry said.
ElBaradei traveled to North Korea in March in what was billed as a landmark visit following the February nuclear agreement.