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2008/06/12 10:56 KST

   *** TOPIC OF THE WEEK (Part 2)

Working-group Talks on Energy Aid for N. Korea Held at Panmunjom

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The working-group meeting established under the six-party talks on ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programs was held at the truce village of Panmunjom on June 11 to discuss details on energy aid for the communist nation as promised under a deal signed last year.

   Participating officials from the six nations expected the one-day meeting to inject fresh air into efforts to resume the six-way talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program within this month.

   North Korea's nuclear dialogue partners have agreed that the delivery of the promised energy aid for the communist state should be accelerated, but called on Pyongyang to simultaneously hasten the disablement of its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon, a South Korean envoy said on June 11.

   North Korea signed a deal with South Korea, the U.S., China, Russia, and Japan last year, under which it will abandon its nuclear program in exchange for political incentives and a million tons of fuel aid. Half of the aid is heavy oil, and the rest is energy facilities worth the equivalent of 500,000 tons of heavy oil.

   But North Korea claims the shipment of energy aid from its negotiating partners lags far behind its implementation of denuclearization obligations, saying that more than 80 percent of the disabling work has been finished, and eight of the total 11 required measures have been made.

   "We have expressed serious concern about the fact that only about 36 percent of the (agreed) energy aid has been delivered," Hyon Hak-bong, Pyongyang's deputy chief representative to the Beijing-based six-way talks on its nuclear program, said in an inter-Korean meeting last week.

   But his South Korean counterpart dismissed Hyon's position. "I don't agree with it," Hwang Joon-kook, head of the South Korean Foreign Ministry's North Korean nuclear issue bureau, told reporters after the morning session of the energy aid meeting.

   Hwang, who chairs the meeting, said, "Given the importance of the remaining measures, it is hard to say that North Korea has completed 80 percent of the disabling work." In fact, the North has reportedly discharged only 3,200 of the total 8,000 reprocessed spent fuel rods from the reactor. Hwang emphasized that the North and its counterparts should make joint efforts for a speedier denuclearization process on an action-for-action basis.

   On the same day of the meeting, the U.S. State Department's top Korea specialist, Sung Kim, returned from a trip to North Korea aimed at discussing the nuclear issue. He was expected to brief South Korean officials on the results of his trip before flying back to Washington on June 12. During his last visit to North Korea, Kim brought with him the confidential operational records of the Yongbyon reactor, which are being analyzed by U.S. experts.

   On June 10, North Korea's Foreign Ministry reasserted its opposition to terrorism, a declaration viewed as directed at Washington, which has labelled it as a terrorism-sponsoring nation. North Korea has long sought to be removed from the blacklist, which has led to various sanctions, including the prohibition of access to low-interest loans from international financial institutions.

   The one-day energy supply meeting at the House of Peace, an administrative building on the southern side of Panmunjom, marked the first time in eight months that the Koreas, the U.S., China, Russia, and Japan held such a plenary session to discuss energy assistance.

   In Seoul on June 10, North Korea's dialogue partners in the six-way talks held a meeting to discuss the supply of energy and to map out ways of facilitating the process in preparation for a plenary session at Panmunjom.

   The disabling work is one of Pyongyang's two key obligations under its aid-for-denuclearization agreement, along with the presentation of a list detailing its nuclear program. The North has yet to submit the declaration, while the disablement has been almost completed.

   South Korea chairs the energy-related meeting, one of the five working groups set up to implement the nuclear agreement. The other four working groups are designed to address the issues of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, normalizing North Korea-U.S. relations, normalizing North Korea-Japan ties, and establishing a Northeast Asian security mechanism.