Seoul, South Korea North Korea received an initial shipment of oil aid today that was promised as a reward for its pledge to shut down its main nuclear reactor, South Korean officials said.
The South Korean tanker No. 9 Han Chang, carrying about 170,000 barrels of fuel oil, arrived at the North's northeastern port of Sonbong about 9:20 a.m. and the oil was being unloaded, the Unification Ministry said.
Today's delivery is about 12 percent of the oil the North has been promised in exchange for shutting down Yongbyon reactor. Pyongyang will eventually receive a total 1 million tons of aid for dismantling its nuclear program.
U.N. inspectors were en route to the North on Friday to monitor the shutdown of its sole operating atomic reactor. The team from the International Atomic Energy Agency stopped in Beijing as it headed to the North.
After years of tortuous negotiations and delays during which the North argued its nuclear program was needed for self-defense, the reclusive communist regime said last week that once it got the oil shipment, it would consider halting its reactor for the first time in five years.
North Korea did not, however, give any timetable for starting the shutdown.
But U.N. officials expressed optimism that North Korean officials were ready to go forward with the shutdown of the plutonium-producing reactor at Yongbyon, about 60 miles northeast of the capital.
"With the kind of help which we (have received) from the (North) in the past few weeks, we think we will do our job in a successful way," IAEA team chief Adel Tolba said in Beijing.
North Korea's military, meanwhile, proposed direct talks with the U.S. on forging a permanent peace on the Korean peninsula. The proposal was noteworthy because it appeared to go beyond simple administrative talks on the 1953 cease-fire that ended the Korean War.
State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey suggested the idea was premature and outside the framework for the nuclear talks already agreed upon. "We have a channel and mechanism for discussing a variety of issues with North Korea through the six-party process," he said.
North Korea agreed earlier this year to scrap its nuclear weapons program in exchange for economic aid and political concessions in a deal with the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia.
Those nations promised to give the impoverished North 50,000 tons of oil for shutting the Yongbyon reactor. It will get total energy aid equivalent to 1 million tons of oil if it disables all nuclear facilities.
The agreement eased a standoff that began in October 2002, when the U.S. said North Korean officials had admitted during meetings in Pyongyang to having a secret uranium enrichment program.