North Korea agrees to hand over nu­clear files to U.S.

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Ni­cholas Kralev

North Korea has ten­ta­tively agreed to give the United States thou­sands of records from its Yong­byon nu­clear re­ac­tor dat­ing back to 1990 to com­ple­ment an ex­pected dec­la­ra­tion of its nu­clear pro­grams, ad­min­is­tra­tion and con­gres­sional of­fi­cials said April 30.

The United States is seek­ing ac­cess to those records, as well as sam­ples from toxic waste and the de­struc­tion of the “cool­ing tower” at the North’s main nu­clear com­plex in re­sponse to crit­i­cism that it is low­er­ing the bar in ne­go­ti­a­tions with Py­ongyang, the of­fi­cials said.

“The ad­min­is­tra­tion is try­ing to work out the ar­range­ments nec­es­sary to ver­ify the ac­cu­racy of the North Korean dec­la­ra­tion,” one of­fi­cial said in ref­er­ence to an ac­count of the North’s nu­clear pro­grams re­quired in six-na­tion talks to de­nu­cle­arize the Korean penin­sula.

“We need to se­cure ac­cess not only to records, but also to waste prod­uct,” said the of­fi­cial, who, like all other sources in­ter­viewed for this ar­ti­cle, asked that his name not be used be­cause of the sen­si­tiv­ity of the mat­ter.

The ten­ta­tive agree­ment was reached two weeks ago in Py­ongyang be­tween Kim Kye-gwan, the chief North Korean ne­go­tia­tor, and Sung Kim, di­rec­tor of the Korea of­fice at the State Depart- ment, of­fi­cials said.

North Korea missed a Dec. 31 dead­line to dis­close de­tails of its nu­clear past, a key step in ne­go­ti­a­tions in which the North would re­ceive aid and other eco­nomic as­sis­tance for giv­ing up atomic weapons and the abil­ity to pro­duce them.

The Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion has been hold­ing off on an­nounc­ing the latest deal to give the North Korean diplo­mat time to clear it with his su­pe­ri­ors. Of­fi­cials said they were wait­ing for of­fi­cial con­fir­ma­tion from Py­ongyang, which could come as early as to­day.

The United States es­ti­mates that North Korea has be­tween 65 and 110 pounds of plu­to­nium. It trig­gered a small nu­clear ex­plo­sion in an Oc­to­ber 2006 test.

“The North Kore­ans were more forth­com­ing than they have been in the past about their plu­to­nium ef­fort,” a se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said about the re­cent meet­ings.

“I’m talk­ing about their will­ing­ness to dis­close what their pro­gram looks like — the el­e­ments, how the whole thing was put to­gether, the fa­cil­i­ties and pro­cesses by which they came up with the plu­to­nium for weapons,” he said.

The North froze plu­to­nium pro­duc­tion af­ter a 1994 deal with the Clin­ton ad­min­is­tra­tion known as the Agreed Frame­work, un­der which it re­ceived eco­nomic aid such as fuel oil to gen­er­ate elec­tric­ity.

But it de­clared the agree­ment dead and re­opened the plant in early 2003.

That move fol­lowed the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion’s as­ser­tion in Oc­to­ber 2002 that Py­ongyang had de­vel­oped a se­cret ura­nium-en­rich­ment pro­gram in the 1990s.

Both plu­to­nium and en­riched ura­nium can fuel a nu­clear ex­plo­sion.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has in­sisted for months that the ura­nium ef­fort, as well as the North’s pro­lif­er­a­tion ac­tiv­i­ties, be in­cluded in the dec­la­ra­tion, which is re­quired un­der a six-na­tion agree­ment reached last year.

Ear­lier last month, how­ever, the ad­min­is­tra­tion said that those two is­sues will be dealt with in a sep­a­rate doc­u­ment.

Of­fi­cials said pri­vately that the United States will write the doc­u­ment in­stead of the North Kore­ans, who will sim­ply “ac­knowl­edge” the U.S. con­cerns.

Crit­i­cism of the pro­posed dis­clo­sure pro­ce­dure on Capi­tol Hill and in the ad­min­is­tra­tion it­self prompted Sec­re­tary of State Con­doleezza Rice to em­pha­size the im­por­tance of ver­i­fi­ca­tion, which led to the de­mands put by the State De­part­ment’s Mr. Kim dur­ing his visit to Py­ongyang.

Also last month, the ad­min­is­tra­tion told Congress that a Syr­ian plu­to­nium fa­cil­ity that was bombed by Is­rael in Septem­ber was built with North Korean help.

Pres­i­dent Bush said the dis­clo­sure was meant to show Py­ongyang that Wash­ing­ton knows more than the North thinks it does.

A for­mer ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial familiar with the cur­rent strat­egy said that Wash­ing­ton was also ask­ing Py­ongyang to ex­pe­dite the col­lapse of Yong­byon’s cool­ing tower, a step that would make it dif­fi­cult for plu­to­nium pro­duc­tion to re­sume.

The col­lapse would have been part of the com­plex’s dis­man­tling in the next stage of the process — at least months away — but the ad­min­is­tra­tion is seek­ing to sat­isfy Congress that the North’s pro­gram can­not be eas­ily re­versed, of­fi­cials said.

“We have to make sure this is some­thing we can take to Congress and the Amer­i­can peo­ple and stand be­hind,” the se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said. “We are mov­ing closer to a dec­la­ra­tion that has cred­i­bil­ity on plu­to­nium.”

A con­gres­sional of­fi­cial sug­gested that Wash­ing­ton would also seek ac­cess to the site where North Korea con­ducted its 2006 test. But the for­mer ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial said that such ac­cess will be dif­fi­cult to gain, and that de­mand may be a bar­gain­ing chip.

“The tac­tic so far has been that we ask for 10 things, get three and move on,” he said.

Jon Ward con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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