Nuclear Reactor Shut Down

North Korea has shut down their only nuclear reactor. In this Letter from Asia, Barry Petersen explains why the U.S. is optimistic about a nuclear weapon-free North Korea.
I'm Barry Petersen and this Letter from Asia comes from Tokyo. Dealing with North Korea is always a migraine headache, according to those who have done it. A step forward can lead to two steps back. You just never know.

But we found a surprising sense of optimism from America's point man on the North Korea nuclear talks - Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill. He's obviously pleased that progress is being made to shut down the North's one reactor.

"It's a good feeling obviously, to make a solid step and to see the situation better than it was the day before. No question. But frankly, it's a kind of daunting feeling when you realize how many more steps you have to go. Every step of the way, this is tough to do," says Hill.

There are many more steps ahead before Kim Jong Il and his country will be nuclear weapons free, including the hardest; the North surrendering some 50-kilos of plutonium it can now use to make a handful of bombs.

"We want to keep the plutonium at a small level, but we're not interested in stopping there," says Hill. "We need an eventual agreement where North Korea will give up all of the plutonium. They've agreed to do that in principle, but we've got to implement that... The more plutonium you have, the more bombs you can make and the more plutonium that could be available for black marketing and proliferation."

Hill credits success in the talks to the fact that China, Russia, Japan and South Korea also joined in. North Korea could feel the pressure. Of course, as Hill or anyone who watches North Korea well knows, this is a country famous for ignoring its own best interest. Now, more than ever, we'll see if the years of bluster and isolation might really be coming to an end.
By Barry Petersen