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Page last updated at 10:13 GMT, Thursday, 10 January 2008

New nuclear deadline for N Korea

Christopher Hill (left) meets Lee Myung-bak, 10 January
Mr Hill (L) briefed Mr Lee on the denuclearisation progress

North Korea needs to complete the disabling of its nuclear facilities by the end of next month, US nuclear envoy Christopher Hill has said.

Speaking in South Korea, Mr Hill said he wanted the process finished by the time the South's incoming President Lee Myung-bak takes office on 25 February.

Pyongyang missed a year-end deadline to give details of its nuclear activities.

The communist state has been promised aid and diplomatic concessions in return for becoming nuclear-free.

Speaking to reporters before boarding a flight to Beijing, Mr Hill said there was no reason why the three-phase denuclearisation process could not be completed in 2008.

FEBRUARY 2007 DEAL
N Korea to "shut down and seal" Yongbyon reactor, then disable all nuclear facilities
In return, it will be given 1m tonnes of heavy fuel oil
Under an earlier 2005 deal, N Korea agreed to end nuclear programme and return to non-proliferation treaty
N Korea's demand for a light water reactor to be discussed at an "appropriate time"

"It is very desirable if we could complete phase two even before [Lee's] government comes in, so that by the time his government does come at the end of February, we'll be focusing on that last stage."

In the first part of the deal, North Korea shut and sealed its Yongbyon reactor, in return for 50,000 tons of heavy fuel oil.

For the second stage - where the process is currently at - North Korea agreed to declare and disable all its existing nuclear facilities, in return for more fuel aid.

Many critics say the most crucial phase will come at the end, when North Korea is required to take steps to irreversibly dismantle Yongbyon, and hand over any nuclear weapons materials it possesses.

Mr Hill said he had briefed Mr Lee on the denuclearisation process, noting the North's failure to account for its nuclear programme by the end of 2007

"We had these bumps in the road, we had these missed deadlines, but ultimately we have been able to continue to make progress," he said.

But potential problems remain, as the US still wants to know how much plutonium is in the hands of the North, which tested a nuclear bomb in October 2006.

There is also the issue of whether or not Pyongyang has a secret uranium enrichment programme - something the US believes but which North Korea denies.


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US envoy Christopher Hill arrives in S Korea for talks



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