North Korea agrees to disable reactor by year-end

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BEIJING, Oct 3 (Reuters) North Korea has agreed to disable its Yongbyon reactor and other nuclear facilities by the end of the year, throwing the ball into the hermit country's court to turn its promises into action.

In an agreement which won praise from US President George W.

Bush, the isolated state will in return get aid equivalent to 1 million tonnes of heavy fuel oil and the United States will move towards taking it off a terrorism blacklist.

Six-party talks, on and off for years and aimed at reining in North Korea's nuclear programmes, ended on Sunday to allow delegates to return to their home countries to discuss a joint statement with their governments.

The statement was released in Beijing today, after all parties, the two Koreas, the United States, Japan, Russia and China, had signed off on it and as the two Koreas held only their second ever summit in the North.

''The disablement of the five megawatt Experimental Reactor at Yongbyon, the Reprocessing Plant (Radiochemical Laboratory) at Yongbyon and the Nuclear Fuel Rod Fabrication Facility at Yongbyon will be completed by December 31, 2007,'' the statement said.

The United States will lead an expert group to North Korea within the next two weeks to prepare for disablement, according to the statement.

At the request of the other parties, the United States will lead disablement activities and provide initial funding.

North Korea has also reaffirmed its commitment not to transfer nuclear materials, technology or know-how, the statement added.

But the statement skirted around the issue of when North Korea would be removed from a U.S. terrorism blacklist, one of the country's key demands, saying only that Washington would fulfil its commitments to begin that process, in parallel with Pyongyang's actions.

''Recalling the commitments to begin the process of removing the designation of the DPRK (North Korea) as a state sponsor of terrorism ... the United States will fulfil its commitments to the DPRK in parallel with the DPRK's actions,'' it said.

And how the deal works out in practice is open to question.

North Korea has repeatedly demanded that in return for disarmament other countries must commit to completing two light-water reactors left partly built when a previous disarmament deal fell apart at the end of 2002.

Producing plutonium for weapons is much more difficult with light-water reactors but the United States and its allies have been reluctant to leave North Korea with any nuclear capability.

REUTERS SKB VC1828

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