Chris Hill 298 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
The United States said it expects agreement in the coming days on a plan to disable North Korea' nuclear facilities by the end of the year, but stressed that what counts is whether the North agrees to give up its nuclear weapons and the fissile material to make them.
Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the top US nuclear negotiator with North Korea, said at a Tuesday news conference that President Bush agreed to a joint statement proposed by China at the end of six-party talks last weekend on plans for disabling the nuclear reactor at Yongbyon and achieving a full description of the North's nuclear program.
Hill, speaking at the Foreign Press Center, said he expects all other parties to the Korea talks - China, Japan, Russia, North Korea and South Korea - to sign on to the joint statement, which should be released in Beijing in the next few days.
While refusing to give details, Hill said the proposed joint statement will set a timetable for getting through the process of obtaining a full nuclear declaration from the North and disabling its nuclear facilities by the end of the year.
Six-party talks on North Korea have dragged on for four years but if ultimately successful would roll back a nuclear program that a year ago allowed North Korea to detonate a nuclear device and that experts say may have produced more than a dozen nuclear bombs.
North Korea is required to disable its sole functioning reactor at Yongbyon in exchange for economic aid and political concessions under a February deal reached through the six-party talks. In July, the North closed Yongbyon, as well as other facilities, ahead of their disablement.
Once there is a six-party agreement, Hill said, the US expects the process of disabling the reactor to get under way "in a matter of weeks." The US wants the dismantling process so thorough that a nuclear facility could not be made operational for at least 12 months.
"We will then be able to move to what we hope will be a final phase," Hill said. "That is in the calendar year 2008 which will deal with the actual abandonment of the fissile material."
Hill said the North - officially the Democratic People's Republic of Korea or DPRK - has about 110 pounds of fissile material harvested from the nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, and will have to declare exactly how much. The U.S. also wants to resolve concerns about the North's uranium enrichment program, he said.
The 110 pounds of fissile material and the North's nuclear weapons are key issues, Hill said.
"In short, we have a long way to go," he said.
"We have to get denuclearization - complete, full denuclearization," Hill said. "Partial success is not success."
"I have to make sure the DPRK understands that they've got to give up the fissile material and the weapons," he said, and that means talking to the army and likely dealing with some people who don't want to take "that very necessary last step."
Hill said that "if we don't get that last step, we don't have a process. We can't get anything done unless there is denuclearization."