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(LEAD) U.S. proposes 'monitored shutdown' of N. Korea's UEP
WASHINGTON, Feb. 16 (Yonhap) -- The United States has suggested that North Korea shut down its uranium enrichment facilities under the monitoring of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, citing the shutdown as a key condition for the resumption of six-way nuclear talks, a diplomatic source here said Wednesday.

   The issue is expected to become a major agenda item in high-level talks between the two nations to be held in Beijing next Thursday, the source added.

   "The U.S. proposed a so-called monitored shutdown regarding the suspension of North Korea's uranium enrichment program (UEP), which is one of the core initial steps toward denuclearization," the source said on the condition of anonymity.

   The U.S. is focusing more on the UEP issue than the return of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency and a moratorium on nuclear and missile tests, according to the source.

   "What is most important in the high-level dialogue to take place in Beijing on Feb. 23 is to confirm whether North Korea will implement initial steps toward denuclearization," the source said. "It is a prerequisite for the resumption of the six-party talks."

   The Pyongyang-Washington meeting will be the first talks between the two sides since a recent transfer of power in the communist nation. The North's long-time leader Kim Jong-il died of a heart attack in December and his youngest son Jon-un took over power.

   Launched in 2003, the six-way talks also involve China, South Korea, Russia and Japan.

   The negotiations have been deadlocked for years amid what some observers see as Pyongyang's repeated provocations, including nuclear and missile tests.