North Korea preparing to shut reactor: Australia
Beijing, Mar 15: Australia today said it would resume full relations with North Korea if it makes good on a pledge to dismantle its nuclear programmes, adding it saw no sign that Pyongyang would back away from the deal.
Australia suspended full ties in late 2002 when a previous disarmament deal fell apart amid US accusations the North was cheating by pursuing a nuclear weapons programme.
North Korea tested a series of missiles last July and followed with a nuclear test in October, but it agreed last month at six-party talks in Beijing to shut the reactor at the heart of its atomic programme in return for aid and security pledges.
''I explained that the Australian government would be willing to support the implementation of the six-party talks, including by resuming our bilateral relationship with North Korea,'' Australian diplomat Peter Baxter told reporters in Beijing following a trip to the reclusive state.
''But any such moves would be entirely conditional on North Korea demonstrating continued progress in meeting the commitments it has made to abandon its nuclear weapons programmes,'' he said.
At Beijing talks in February with the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia, Pyongyang agreed to shut its Yongbyon reactor within 60 days in return for an initial shipment of heavy fuel oil.
Baxter, who met senior officials in the North Korean foreign ministry, trade ministry and agriculture ministry, said they had indicated that their country was committed to the deal.
''The North Korean officials made it clear to me that they were preparing to shut down Yongbyon and allow IAEA inspectors to verify that action,'' he said, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog.
''I heard nothing in my discussions with the North Korean officials to indicate that they were backtracking,'' Baxter said.
North Korea had proposed to send a high-level delegation to Australia next month to continue discussions on restoring full ties, Baxter said, adding that Foreign Minister Alexander Downer had agreed to the trip as long as Pyongyang met its commitments.
''They did assure me that they were aware the clock was ticking,'' Baxter said.
Australia also banned North Korean ships from its ports last September and announced financial sanctions barring the transfer of money to North Korea by business groups suspected of having links to its nuclear or missile programmes.