U.S. may trade de-listment for verification with N. Korea

By Marianne Barriaux, AFP

BEIJING — The United States will take North Korea off its terror list “immediately” if it can agree a way to verify its nuclear facilities, top envoy Christopher Hill said Saturday.

The renewed pledge followed a flurry of meetings here after North Korea said it had stopped dismantling its Yongbyon nuclear reactor and started taking equipment back to the site. “I want to stress that we’re not looking to verify their declaration (of nuclear activities) now, we’re looking to come up with rules of how we will verify it in the future,” Hill told reporters.

“Our focus is on trying to get through the verification protocol and then we will take them off the terrorism list immediately,” he said.

Hill met his Chinese counterpart Wu Dawei and the Russian ambassador to China on Saturday, after talks with the Japanese and South Korean envoys on Friday.

He said equipment had been moved around the Yongbyon complex but did not confirm reports North Korea had broken International Atomic Energy Agency seals in a step towards restarting the reactor. However, he gave reassurances that any attempts to rebuild Yongbyon would not take place overnight.

“Reconstituting Yongbyon is not an easy piece of work, it doesn’t happen in a matter of weeks or even months,” Hill said.

Yongbyon is at the heart of the North’s decades-old nuclear weapons drive and produced the plutonium for its October 2006 atomic test, as well as for an unknown number of bombs.

The North last November began disabling the reactor and other plants under U.S. supervision as part of a six-nation disarmament-for-aid deal. It says 80 percent of the work has been completed.

In June, it handed over a long-awaited declaration of its nuclear activities, prompting the U.S. to ease some trade sanctions but not to de-list Pyongyang as specified in the deal.

Last week, Pyongyang said it had stopped disabling the reactor and would consider rebuilding it unless it was removed from the U.S. blacklist.

Washington has demanded strict verification of the declaration, including sampling of atomic materials and sites — something Pyongyang rejects as a violation of its sovereignty.