Russia's foreign ministry hails North Korean reactor closure - 1

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Moscow considers the shutdown of North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear reactor to be a positive signal, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Monday.
(Recasts headline, adds background, details in paras 3-8)

MOSCOW, July 16 (RIA Novosti) - Moscow considers the shutdown of North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear reactor to be a positive signal, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Monday.

"North Korea has agreed to constructive cooperation with the IAEA [the UN nuclear watchdog], and this is developing smoothly. Agency inspectors are now at Yongbyon, and they have confirmed the reactor has been shut down. This is a positive signal," spokesman Mikhail Kamynin said.

The six-party talks between North and South Korea, China, Russia, Japan and the United States are set to resume July 18 in Beijing to outline the next phase of ending North Korea's nuclear weapons program, which has been a cause of international concern for many years.

Kamynin said Moscow was "cautiously optimistic" about the July 18-19 meeting. Russia is interested in peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, and will welcome any steps contributing to this, he added.

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, who arrived in Pyongyang over the weekend, confirmed Monday the shutdown by North Korea of its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of the capital, as part of a disarmament deal reached in February.

The shutdown of the Yongbyon facilities, which have been used to produce weapons-grade plutonium, is the first phase of the disarmament deal, which also envisions other economic and diplomatic incentives for the North, which conducted its first nuclear bomb test in October 2006.

Under the deal, the reclusive Communist regime will initially receive 50,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil from its wealthier southern neighbor. The U.S., Russia and China are to supply another 950,000 metric tons later on.

Ambassador-at-Large Vladimir Rakhmanin, Russia's acting envoy to the six-party talks, said earlier in the day that the second phase would include the North providing information on all its nuclear programs, including its uranium enrichment, and shutting down all nuclear facilities.

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