MOSCOW – North Korea plans to shut down its Yongbyon nuclear reactor in the second half of July and proposes holding the next round of six-party talks on disarmament after it does so, the Interfax-China news agency reported Monday, citing an unidentified North Korean official in Beijing.
The reported statement signaled Pyongyang's willingness to implement key agreements on dismantling its nuclear program as the transfer of its frozen funds was under way.
"Based on our specialists' evaluations, it will take one month to technically shut down the reactor. This way, we expect to seal it in the second half of July 2007 in accordance with agreements reached at six-party talks," the official was quoted as saying.
"The reactor shutdown will mean that North Korea has honored its obligations for the initial stage of the peninsula's denuclearization," the diplomat was quoted as saying. "In our opinion, the sixth round should be restarted after Yongbyon nuclear reactor has been sealed."
North Korea had refused to move on its February pledge to shut down the Yongbyon reactor until it received about US$25 million (euro18.7 million) in funds that were frozen in a Macau bank. The U.S. accused Banco Delta Asia of helping North Korea's government pass fake US$100 bills and launder money from weapons sales.
The transfer of the frozen North Korean funds is now under way, and North Korea on Saturday invited inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit -- the first concrete sign of a breakthrough in the stalemate over its nuclear program.
"North Korea has invited a delegation of the International Atomic Energy Agency to oversee the initial stage of reactor freezing," the official was quoted as saying.
"We also plan to invite IAEA experts for a second time when the reactor has been sealed, so they can inspect it," the diplomat said, adding that "the process could take about three weeks under favorable circumstances and taking into account that we have long prepared ourselves for reactor freezing.
"The countdown will begin depending on the arrival of IAEA inspectors," the official was quoted as saying.
A South Korean official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, told The Associated Press in Seoul that the timing of the reactor shutdown would become clear following consultations between the IAEA and North Korea.
Russia's Finance Minster Alexei Kudrin said that a Russian Far East bank that is to be used to transfer the money from Macau had not yet received the funds, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. Kudrin said as soon as there is "100 percent certainty" that the bank, Dalkombank, and other Russian companies involved in the transfer will not subjected to U.S. sanctions, the money transfer will take place.