Team of Experts Arrive in North Korea to Start Work on Disabling Nuclear Reactor

A team of U.S. experts landed in the North Korean capital on Thursday to start work on disabling the country's main nuclear complex.

The process was expected to begin this week at a reactor that produces plutonium for bombs at the Yongbyon nuclear complex.

The nuclear experts arrived in Pyongyang on Thursday afternoon, broadcaster APTN said in a report from the North Korean capital.

"It will be a combined effort, with North Korean help and our experts supervising and coordinating," team leader Sung Kim, director of the U.S. State Department's Office of Korea Affairs, told reporters before leaving Beijing.

"Our main focus is to get there and start the process," he said.

The nuclear teams include experts from the Department of Energy and State Department, and they will work in two- to three-week rotations, Kim said.

His arrival in North Korea comes after U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill held two days of talks in Beijing. Hill met with his North Korean counterpart Kim Kye Gwan on the technical details of the disablement work.

"We are very satisfied that we have an overall plan that will be effective and will provide the disablement that we need, with the understanding that disablement is not the last stage and I can't emphasize that enough," Hill told reporters Thursday.

Under a February agreement, the North said it will abandon its nuclear ambitions in exchange for political concessions and the equivalent of 1 million tons of oil.

Pyongyang said it would disable the Yongbyon reactor, reprocessing plant and fuel fabrication plant and declare all of its atomic programs by the year's end.

White House spokeswoman spokeswoman Dana Perino said the Bush administration was hopeful that the deal would eventually result in complete North Korean disarmament.

"That is where we are working towards, and we expect that they will fulfill their part of the bargain," Perino said. "If they don't, then we won't have to fulfill our part, either."

Hill said his talks focused on the scope of the disabling and on preparations for the visit by Kim's team.

"They're all very highly motivated and ready to get on with the first stages of actual disablement," he said. They will be "taking things apart, (and) in other cases actually severing connections."

The team will carry out about 10 measures to disable the Yongbyon facilities, South Korean Foreign Minister Song Min-soon told reporters in Seoul.

Hill said North Korea had reiterated that it would not engage in any transfer of nuclear technology and material to other countries.

The North provides missile technology to Syria, but has strongly denied accusations that it spreads its nuclear expertise beyond its borders. Syria has denied receiving any North Korean nuclear help or embarking on any nuclear program.

Western media have quoted unidentified U.S. officials as saying that a Sept. 6 Israeli airstrike hit a nuclear facility in Syria linked to North Korea. Syria has said an unused military building was hit.

South Korea, meanwhile, expressed hope that leaders of the U.S. and North Korea could discuss resolving the 54-year-old Korean War cease-fire even before Pyongyang completes its nuclear disarmament.

President Bush has firmly said that a peace agreement to replace the 1953 armistice that halted the Korean War could only be discussed when the North totally disarms.