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North Korea lifts nuclear veil

  • Story Highlights
  • Tour of North Korea nuclear facility shows dismantling under way
  • Pace of shutdown slows as U.S. sanctions not fully removed
  • U.S. orchestra will perform this week in Pyongyang
  • "They don't like our words; maybe they'll like our music," U.S. diplomat says
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By Christiane Amanpour
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Editor's note: CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour recently toured North Korea's nuclear plant. CNN was one of only two U.S. news organizations at the facility.

YONGBYON, North Korea (CNN) -- The North Koreans haven't seen this many Americans since the Korean War, but they are pulling out all the stops.

Technicians work inside North Korea's nuclear plant at Yongbyon.

CNN was one of only two American news organizations ever allowed to visit the main nuclear facility at Yongbyon.

For a nation President Bush labeled as part of the "axis of evil," it was not an impressive sight: a dilapidated concrete hulk, built with few resources back in the early '80s.

But it did produce plutonium, enough to make a few bombs and to test-fire a nuclear weapon 18 months ago.

Today is a very different story though. North Korea shut down Yongbyon last summer under an agreement with the United States and four other nations in the nuclear disarmament negotiations.

We were shown the extraordinary sight of heavy metal pipes, chopped down and laid on the ground: They had been part of a coolant loop that sent steam to the turbine generators to produce electricity. Video Watch what's going on inside North Korea's nuclear facility »

We saw the distinctive bell-shaped cooling tower, just a shell, the inner guts of the system cut out.

We saw the vital nuclear fuel rods being removed and neutralized under 20 feet of water. Photo See photos of the plant »

And we even were shown the reprocessing plant where plutonium was extracted from the rods, plutonium that was used for nuclear weapons, the chief engineer admitted.

Parts of the plant are now dismantled, wrapped in plastic and put into storage.

And there are technicians from the U.S. Department of Energy on-site helping with all of this. It seems a far cry from the hostility conjured by the axis of evil. Video Watch analyst Mike Chinoy explain how North Korea has been accommodating »

For all of this, North Korea expected a million tons of heavy fuel oil, a lifting of sanctions and removal from the U.S. list of terrorist sponsors. This has not happened yet, so North Korea has slowed down the disabling process at Yongbyon.

The United States says Pyongyang hasn't yet fully accounted for its past nuclear activities. However, both sides seem determined to overcome this stumbling block and reach out in other ways, too.

As we were being shown around Yongbyon, the New York Philharmonic Orchestra was landing in Pyongyang, the first time a major U.S. cultural group has visited North Korea since the war in the early '50s.

Both sides seem to be looking for a less hostile relationship, and as the U.S. nuclear negotiator says, "They don't like our words; maybe they'll like our music."


Tuesday night a select group of North Koreans will hear the famed musicians play, and those with TVs will see the concert broadcast live.

Members of the orchestra also will give master classes to North Korean musicians, a small step on a long route to normality. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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