Disabling North Korean nuclear reactors means more than just shutting them down, U.S. says

The U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Christopher Hill, who is the chief American negotiator on North Korea, told journalists in Australia over the weekend that teams from the three major nuclear-weapons states (the U.S., Russia, and China) are expected to be in Pyongyang on the evening of 11 September.

Hill told journalists that “We are working very hard to get the teams identified. China, for example, just gave a name of a nuclear scientist who will be coming. We are putting together
our list of people. And so they will assemble in Pyongyang. The purpose is to do a survey of the
sites that need to be disabled pursuant to our agreement. And so they will visit Yongbyon in particular, because “as we already know, even without a declaration , we know that Yongbyon has three of the main sites. That is, the fuel fabrication facilitation, the 5-megawatt
reactor, and the reprocessing facility.  And so the idea is for these nuclear experts to look at these three facilities and “ working with the DPRK experts to figure out how they can be disabled and how to do that disablement before December 31st …

Hill continued: “We have a lot of work to do to get ready for Tuesday. People have to get their gear together. We believe the U.S. group — which will consist of a few experts from, for example, from the Department of Energy, but also the Department of State; I think we also have someone from the National Security Council staff — the plan is for our team to arrive in Pyongyang the night of the 11th and rendezvous with experts from Russia and China. Then, probably starting on the 12th, they will go and visit probably the Yongbyong facility — because everybody knows that’s what needs to be done.

QUESTION: Do you think those people will visit sites other than at Yongbyon?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: I don’t know. I don’t want to get into the specific sites. But I know they will be visiting Yongbyon.

QUESTION: Are they going to actually enter the facilities?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Again, they will have to work this out, because there will be a lot of DPRK, a lot of North Korean experts there as well. So we’ll have to work that out. This plan has not been choreographed every step of the way, so I am sure they will encounter issues there. But we’ll try to deal with them … We have to see what the results are of the visit. Our hope is that they can agree on some disabling measures that, first of all, meet the definition of disabling – which is to make it very difficult to bring a facility back on line. Right now, the facilities are shut down, but in theory one could bring them back up online. The idea of disabling is to make it difficult tobring things back online. So we hope that, within that definition of disabling, we can agree on some measures with the North Koreans that mean we will be able to meet our deadline of December 31st.

QUESTION: Is that more for the disablement, rather than declaration?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: This is more for the disablement. Now I don’t think this will be the last team either. But this is a start of the disablement process. And the reason I know they are going to Yongbyon is that the facilities in Yongbyon don’t need to await a declaration in order for technicians to begin looking at the technical task of how to disable them.

QUESTION: Are they not going to look for uranium facilities?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: This delegation is probably not going to be looking at uranium facilities at this time. But, as we have made very clear, when we get to a declaration — and we need a declaration that can be done in time to have all the nuclear facilities disabled by the 31st … I’ve talked in the past about how we’ve talked about documents and agreeing on pieces of paper. Now we have people actually getting on the ground and looking at real facilities and figuring out how things can be done in a real way. But, you know, this is a long process. We’re not at the end. We’re not even at the beginning of the end. So we’ve got a ways to go. And so I’m just going to keep my adrenaline in check for the time being.

QUESTION: Is this something that North Korean voluntarily came up with, or is it something that was a response to U.S. requests?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: … It was their suggestion, and it was an outgrowth of the denuclearization working group that took place in Shenyang — during which there was a discussion of how do you disable. And one of the questions is, how do you define disablement? And then how do you disable in a way that meets that definition, but also the time frame — because I think we’ve lost a lot of time in our process over the spring. And so we want disablement, the disablement phase, to be done by December 31st. So rather than talk about ideas on a piece of paper, the North Koreans suggested that some nuclear experts come and have a look and let’s figure out what we can get done according to our definition and get it done by December 31st.

QUESTION: Japan and Korea I think also have nuclear experts. What is the reason —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, this has to do with nuclear weapons ultimately.  At the end of the day, we’re talking about facilities that have been used for military purposes.  And I think we have to realize that Yongbyon was a facility that was used to reprocess spent fuel into plutonium for military purposes, and for that reason we have the three nuclear weapons states. In the future, I don’t know what kind of experts would be involved. But, at this stage, having the three nuclear weapons states seemed appropriate. I want to stress that the results of this expert-level visit, the results will be forwarded, will be reported to the Six-Party meeting, which is under the chairmanship of the Chinese. So we will go from there.

QUESTION: Does this mean the North Koreans are ready to disable and declare all nuclear programs by the end of this year? Are they really going to do that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Well, they said they will.

QUESTION: By the end of this year?


QUESTION: They said in public? In public, I don’t think they said —

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: They’e said they will.

QUESTION: And if they disable by the end of this year, are you ready to delist them from the state sponsors list?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY HILL: Oh, well, we have some very specific understandings about that, but I’m not ready to talk about that publicly.

See U.S. State Department site for full transcript.

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