SEOUL, Oct 22 (Reuters) North Korea could start disabling its plants that make weapons-grade plutonium as early as next week as a part of a disarmament-for-aid deal the reclusive state struck with regional powers, a news report today said.
North Korea reached an agreement this month with five countries to disable its Soviet-era nuclear facilities and account for all its fissile material by the end of this year in exchange for energy aid and an end to its status as an international pariah.
''''We expect the disabling of the North's nuclear facilities to start as early as next week,'' an unnamed South Korean government official was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency.
South Korean Foreign Ministry officials would not confirm the report.
US nuclear experts have visited North Korea this month to look at how the secretive state could disable its antiquated nuclear reactor, a plant that produces fuel rods and another that turns spent fuel into arms-grade plutonium.
North Korea has already shut those facilities as part of the deal it struck with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States.
By the end of 2007, North Korea is also supposed to fully account for its plutonium stockpile -- thought by the United States to be about 50 kg (110.2 lb) -- and answer US suspicions that it has a clandestine plan to enrich uranium for weapons.
Separately today, the two Koreas held talks on the heavy fuel oil aid the energy-starved North will receive for taking steps to end its nuclear arms programme, considered one of Asia's greatest security concerns.
The North has already received 100,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil and can receive another 900,000 tonnes based on compliance.
South Korea's GS Caltex has won a bid to supply 50,000 tonnes of heavy fuel oil to North Korea as part of the deal, an industry source said today.
REUTERS SS RN1342