Working-level six-party talks open to discuss energy aid to North Korea


PANMUNJOM, Korea — Working-level negotiators from the United States, North Korea and their regional partners began talks on promised energy aid to the North, as a European lawmaker said Pyongyang is ready to fulfill its disarmament promises.

The two-day meeting at the truce village of Panmunjom on the border bisecting the Koreas was being held the under the auspice of the six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, which also include South Korea, China, Russia and Japan.

This week’s talks will focus on oil aid, energy-related equipment and materials to be delivered to the North and methods of their supply, South Korean officials said.

“The road ahead of us could be bumpy and might have more ups and downs than the road we have gone through so far, primarily because we’ll be discussing extremely technical issues,” Lim Sung-nam, chief South Korean delegate to the working-level meeting, said in his opening remarks.

In the latest round of the wider six-party talks in China that ended on Oct. 3, North Korea agreed to disable its main nuclear facilities and declare all its programs by year’s end, marking the biggest step it has ever taken to scale back its nuclear ambitions.

“The Oct. 3 agreement, which we all jointly passed, gave this working group the mandate to finalize specific modalities related to economic and energy assistance to the DPRK,” Lim said, referring to North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

A U.S. team of nuclear experts traveled to the North this month to put in place a plan for disabling key facilities at the North’s main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, north of Pyongyang. South Korean and U.S. officials said other team of technical experts will visit the North as early as this week to begin actual disablement procedures.

Under a six-nation deal in February, the North is to abandon its nuclear ambitions in exchange for the equivalent of 1 million tons of oil and political concessions. The communist regime had already shut down its sole operating reactor in Yongbyon under the initial phase of the Feb. 13 deal in return for Seoul’s shipment of 50,000 tons of oil aid.

The Yongbyon nuclear complex is believed to have produced enough plutonium for perhaps more than a dozen bombs – including the device North Korea detonated a year ago to prove its long-suspected nuclear capability.

Separately, a member of the European Parliament just back from meetings in North Korea said the country is ready to fulfill its nuclear promises.

“From the North Korean side they mentioned they will fulfill everything … they have signed in the contract of the six party talks,” said Hubert Pirker, who led a delegation of EU lawmakers to the North. “So we could see that the goal from the North Korean side is to realize all they have promised to do until December.”