Sanctions to stay until North Korea disarms - US

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SEOUL, Nov 2 (Reuters) United Nations sanctions imposed on North Korea for its nuclear test last year will only be lifted after Pyongyang scraps its atomic weapons programme, a senior US envoy said today.

A team of US nuclear experts will arrive in the North's Soviet-era nuclear complex today or tomorrow to start disabling facilities that produce weapons-grade plutonium under a multinational disarmament deal, Christopher Hill said.

''The sanctions are there until the DPRK (North Korea) gets out of the nuclear business,'' he told reporters after meeting with South Korea's chief nuclear envoy. ''That is when they ought to be revisited.'' The UN Security Council last year imposed a ban on international trade that aids the North's weapons programmes after Pyongyang defied international warnings and conducted its first nuclear test in October last year.

The United States could use its veto power to block lifting the ban.

US officials estimate the North has about 50 kg (110 lb) of plutonium. That, say proliferation experts, is enough for six to eight bombs.

The North is required to provide a complete accounting of its fissile material and nuclear arms programme by the end of this year under a deal it reached with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States.

The deal also calls for it to disable the core of its nuclear programme -- its antiquated reactor, a plant that produces nuclear fuel and another that turns spent fuel into plutonium.

Though the steps would be reversible, experts say it would prevent the North from going back to producing any more plutonium for about a year.

''Disablement essentially makes it difficult, it makes it costly to go back on the agreement,'' Hill said. ''We want disablement for the purpose and dismantlement and abandonment.'' South Korea has been pushing the United States and China to seize on North Korea's willingness to scrap its nuclear programme by agreeing a peace treaty to replace the ageing armistice that ended the 1950-1953 Korean War.

United States signed the armistice as the leader of U.N.

forces with China and North Korea. Hill said the United States could start a process for a possible peace treaty but signing the deal would only occur after the North scraps its nuclear programme.

''We are not going to have a peace agreement with a nuclearised DPRK,'' Hill said.

REUTERS SZ HS1019

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