NORTH KOREA NEWSLETTER NO. 3 (May 15, 2008) |
*** TOPIC OF THE WEEK
Six-party Talks Likely in Early June as N.K. Nuclear Documents 'Complete'
SEOUL (Yonhap) -- The international talks on Pyongyang's nuclear programs are likely to resume in early June following the handover of thousands of North Korean documents to a U.S. team last week.
After making initial examination of the papers, the U.S. said on May 13 the documents North Korea turned over on Pyongyang's plutonium production appear to be "quite full," calling them an "important first step" in verifying the North's nuclear activities. Informed sources in Seoul said the six-party talks will most likely resume early next month after months of deadlock due to a dispute over whether the communist country kept its promise to declare all its atomic programs by the end of last year.
As the records appeared to be satisfactory, the North may be about to enter the next step of denuclearization by declaring its nuclear programs. In the meantime, Christopher Hill, the top U.S. nuclear envoy, will start consultations with his counterparts from the six-party talks from this weekend to discuss the next steps, starting with a meeting in Washington with interlocutors from South Korea and Japan on May 17-18.
Sung Kim, director of Korean affairs at the U.S. State Department, who returned to Washington on May 12 from his second trip to Pyongyang in two weeks, brought back more than seven boxes of North Korean documents, including daily logs of operational records of the 5-megawatt reactor and reprocessing facility. These two installations are suspected of churning out weapons-grade material, enough to give North Korea up to half a dozen nuclear weapons, according to a U.S. intelligence assessment.
After deciding whether the documents are legitimate and helpful for scientific verification, Washington is likely to begin the process of removing North Korea from the list of states sponsoring terrorism -- one of the key incentives promised to the North in return for its disablement of nuclear facilities and declaration of its nuclear programs. Washington has also promised to remove sanctions that restrict Pyongyang from tapping into international financing.
The material, consisting of over 18,822 pages divided into 314 volumes, will be translated from Korean over the next few weeks and reviewed by interagency experts in an effort to determine exactly how much plutonium Pyongyang produced. "I believe these are a complete set of documents," Kim said at a news conference in Washington, next to the boxes of the documents that he said date back to 1986.
Pyongyang must still submit a declaration, including nuclear activities other than plutonium production and any proliferation, to China, the chair of the six-party talks. The North is expected to provide more documents in the future, said Kim.
Kim said he did get "reference material" on what the declaration would look like, and he sounded positive. "Our delegation's sense was that the reference material that would form the basis for the declaration is quite comprehensive and full."
The North's materials were provided at a critical juncture in the six-nation talks, just weeks after the U.S. officially announced it believes Pyongyang helped Syria build a covert nuclear reactor.
Pyongyang's cooperation in confirming plutonium production, and in future verification efforts, could help pacify hardliners in the U.S. who question the North's sincerity in promising to give up its nuclear ambition. "We will obviously be briefing Congress as early as possible," Kim said.
He and North Korean officials discussed the importance of verification, he said. "And the North Koreans acknowledged it and agreed indeed to cooperate fully with the six parties in the verification effort."
The verification would involve access to sites, sampling and interviews of those involved in the North's nuclear programs, Kim said. Consultations will continue with North Korea through the two countries' missions to the United Nations, he said.
Based on the analysis of experts since the first nuclear crisis in the early 1990s, North Korea began the operation of its 5-megawatt reactor at Yongbyon in September 1986. It is presumed the North extracted the spent fuel rods from the reactor in March 1989 and reprocessed them to produce 15 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium.
After the October 1994 Geneva Agreement between Washington and Pyongyang, the nuclear facilities were shut down. But after the agreement was broken in 2002 amid suspicions that North Korea was running a clandestine uranium enrichment program, the North reportedly extracted 8,000 spent fuel rods in 2003, reprocessed them and produced 27 kilograms of more weapons-grade plutonium.
The North claims it produced about 30 kilograms of weapons-grade plutonium and used 6-7 kg for its underground nuclear test in 2006. But the U.S. experts estimate the North manufactured more than 50 kg of plutonium.