Global Security Newswire
Daily News on Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Weapons, Terrorism and Related Issues
North Korea Sent Message to United States Before Submitting Nuclear Declaration
North Korea quietly noted U.S. suspicions regarding uranium enrichment and nuclear proliferation activities in a message delivered to Washington several days before the Stalinist state submitted the overdue declaration of its nuclear activities, the Washington Post reported today (see GSN, July 1).
Acknowledgement of U.S. concerns on those issues was the apparent result of an April compromise between Pyongyang and Washington. The Bush administration had previously demanded that the regime provide significantly more detail in the declaration required under a 2007 denuclearization deal.
The State Department said in October that North Korea had "agreed to provide a complete and correct declaration of all its nuclear programs -- including clarification regarding the uranium issue -- by the end of the year."
Instead, the 60-page document arrived nearly six months late and only referenced the uranium matter in relation to the agreed-upon acknowledgement, sources told the Post. North Korea reportedly said in the declaration that it holds 37 kilograms of weapon-usable plutonium. It listed its nuclear sites without making clear which are involved in weapons operations.
A number of observers have criticized the Bush administration for accepting a declaration that provides significantly less information than it had sought.
"What we really have is sort of a Potemkin village of U.S. policy in which there's a great deal of difference between these initial bold pledges and then subsequent reality often behind the scenes," said Korea expert Bruce Klingner of the Heritage Foundation.
The North Korean denuclearization agreement is "a partially finished product," argued Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, lead U.S. envoy to the six-nation negotiations on Pyongyang's nuclear program.
"We have to keep working on issues that have still not been fully disclosed, although not denied by the North Koreans," he said during an event at the Center for International and Strategic Studies in Washington.
Hill noted that the multilateral effort has succeeded in shuttering North Korea's sole plutonium-producing reactor.
"It was less than a year ago that they were still producing plutonium, and plutonium is what they tested as a nuclear weapon" in October 2006, Hill said. "Plutonium is really, first of all, what we needed to stop their production of, and secondly, what we need eventually to have them abandon" (Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, July 2).
North Korea to date has halted operations at its Yongbyon nuclear complex, moved to disable the reactor and two other key plants, issued the declaration and demolished its reactor cooling tower. In turn, the five other nations -- China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States -- have begun to provide the regime with energy assistance. The Bush administration has also lifted some trade sanctions from Pyongyang and moved to take it off the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism.
The next steps would involve additional talks, verification of North Korea's nuclear claims and ultimately full dismantlement of its nuclear infrastructure. Questions remain regarding the nation's willingness to give up its atomic weapons.
"Obviously, we would like to deal with things in one fell swoop, but, you know, sometimes you have to kind of do things on an incremental basis," Hill said (Reuters/Washington Post, July 1).
"We're not going to accept North Korea as a nuclear state. We have to get that part done," he added at the CSIS event.
Washington is preparing verification strategies, he said.
"We're obviously going to look at the declaration very systematically this week. We're going to work on our verification, how we would approach verification," Hill said.
"People often say, How can you trust them?' This had nothing to do with trust. This has everything to do with verification" (P. Parameswaran, Agence France-Presse/Yahoo!News, July 1).
Disablement of the Yongbyon facilities is roughly two-thirds complete. While that does not exclude resumption of plutonium production, such an effort might now require too much time, cost and work to undertake, the Christian Science Monitor reported today.
"None of the steps North Korea has taken thus far are irreversible, but the destruction of this [cooling] tower makes it harder to reconstitute their plutonium program," according to CSIS senior fellow Jon Wolfsthal.
Any uranium enrichment efforts should be considered a "footnote" to Pyongyang's plutonium program, David Albright, head of the Institute for Science and International Security, said earlier this year (Peter Grier, Christian Science Monitor, July 2).
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