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US and North Korea on brink of agreement

TOKYO - The US and North Korea resume talks on curbing Pyongyang's nuclear programme today, on the verge of an agreement designed to ensure North Korea can get no further towards making nuclear weapons, writes Terry McCarthy.

North Korea, a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, is demanding a high price from the US for doing what other signatories do: allowing inspectors to ensure civil nuclear projects are not diverted to military use.

The two sides are to to consider a North Korean offer to store 8,000 spent uranium fuel rods in a sarcophagus of concrete that will prevent them being reprocessed into weapons-grade plutonium. The rods were removed from the core of a graphite reactor in the nuclear plant at Yongbyon in June and the US calculates they could yield enough plutonium for five atomic bombs if reprocessed.

The North is also proposing to scrap development of two larger graphite reactors, in exchange for US help in the acquisition of a safer, light-water reactor. It also wants economic aid and diplomatic recognition from the US.