N. Korea nuclear talks move ahead


TOKYO -- North Korea said today that it had reached an agreement in principle with the United States on implementation of October's Geneva accord aimed at halting North Korea's suspected nuclear weapons development program.

The leader of the U.S. negotiating team, however, said that an agreement had not yet been reached but that significant progress had been made in the negotiations taking place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, over the provision of light-water nuclear reactors to North Korea.

"It is fair to say that we made some progress yesterday on resolving some of the key issues," Thomas C. Hubbard, a deputy assistant secretary of state, said in a telephone interview from Malaysia. "We did not resolve all of them."

Mr. Hubbard said that technical experts from the two sides were meeting today to resolve the remaining issues and to craft a document outlining the points on which agreement had been reached.

North Korea was more positive. "Both sides reached agreement in principle on major issues like the choice of the reactor model, the mode of contract-making, the liabilities of the United States and the expenses for the adjustment of the construction site," the government-controlled Korea Central News Agency said in a press release received in Tokyo.

"On this basis, both sides have begun working-level consultation for the formulation of a joint document this morning," it continued.

The Geneva agreement calls for the United States and its allies to provide North Korea with two modern light-water nuclear reactors in exchange for North Korea's curtailment of a program for reactors that are suspected of being used for nuclear weapons development.

The United States has insisted that South Korean light-water reactors be chosen and that South Korea play a major role in building and installing them. That is because South Korea has pledged to pay the bulk of the $4 billion cost.

But North Korea has until now refused to accept the South Korean reactors, saying they are unsafe. U.S. officials say Pyongyang's real reason for refusing the South Korean reactors has been that it would feel humiliated to accept modern technology from its Cold War rival.

Neither Mr. Hubbard nor the North Korean news agency commented on the specifics of the points agreed on, although Mr. Hubbard said that a central role for South Korea "remains the essence of the U.S. position."

It is expected that an agreement would still allow for South Korean models to be provided.

However, the agreement is not likely to state that it is a South Korean reactor. Rather, the reactor is likely to be described in a technical way that could only apply to the South Korean reactor.

The issue of who will be the prime contractor for the reactor project is likely to be similarly fudged or left until later to decide.

An agreement, if it is sealed this week, would represent a stunning turnaround. The negotiations in Malaysia have been dragging on since May 20 without much progress. Earlier this week, two of the North Korea negotiators returned to Pyongyang, reportedly because of the lack of progress.

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