English Chinese Japanese Arabic Spanish
Home North Korea
2008/07/03 10:47 KST


N. Korea Submits Nuclear Declaration, Demolishes Cooling Tower

SEOUL (Yonhap) -- North Korea took one of its most significant steps toward denuclearization on June 26 by submitting a long-awaited declaration of its nuclear weapons program. The communist country made another major move the next day by blowing up the most visible symbol of its plutonium production, a 20-meter cooling tower at the North's main nuclear power plant.

   The North handed over a 60-page declaration detailing its past and present nuclear activities to China, the host country of the six-party talks to end the North's nuclear ambition. The declaration, originally due before the end of last year, was part of a hard-won deal reached with the U.S. after months of haggling. In return, Washington began steps to normalize relations with Pyongyang.

  T he demolition of the cooling tower, the most conspicuous part of the nuclear complex at Yongbyon, some 100 kilometers north of Pyongyang, vividly illustrated the incremental progress in the six-party talks. Observers said the demolition was apparently aimed at demonstrating its commitment to abandoning all of its nuclear programs in return for economic aid and political incentives.

   The Yongbyon nuclear site was where the North produced plutonium used for its first-ever underground nuclear test in 2006. TV footage on June 26 showed the concrete tower collapsing a few seconds after detonation amid an ear-splitting explosion and billowing plumes of smoke.

   Almost simultaneously, the George W. Bush administration notified Congress of its plan to remove the North from the U.S. list of terrorism-sponsoring nations and lift other sanctions under the Trading with the Enemy Act, which will open the door for increased economic aid to the North from the international community in the long run. Congress has 45 days to decide whether to veto Bush's decision.

   North Korea's state media issued a belated statement welcoming the U.S. move to remove it from the list. "We assess this as a positive step and welcome it," an unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesman told the North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). The report came a few hours after the North blew up the cooling tower.

   But the Foreign Ministry spokesman did not mention the demolition. None of the North Korean media provided any news coverage of the destruction of the cooling tower. Observers said the North Korean regime did not want to show its citizens the collapse of the symbol of its nuclear deterrent against "any U.S. preemptive attack." Also, the North would not want to give its people the impression that it succumbed to U.S. pressure, they said.

   The North has denounced the "hostile" U.S. policy toward it, and insisted that it developed its nuclear weapons to counter belligerence by Washington. Under its goal of becoming a "Kangsong Taeguk" (great, prosperous and powerful country), the North has pursued a "Songun", meaning military-first, policy.

   The tower was a symbol of the North's long-running nuclear ambitions. The Soviet-era nuclear facilities were shut down last year, and they are now being disabled under the six-party deal signed last year in a prelude to dismantlement. Sung Kim, the U.S. State Department's top Korea expert, witnessed the demolition together with scores of journalists from member countries of the six-nation talks.

   Still, some experts said that the North has still failed to answer key questions, such as how many weapons it has built or whether it has exported its nuclear technology.

   After submitting the declaration, a spokesman for the North's Foreign Ministry said, "We appraise this as a positive step." However, the spokesman added that if Washington wants to see further progress in ending the North's nuclear programs, it must completely and comprehensively abolish its "hostile" policy, and added that the six parties should fulfill their commitments for denuclearizing the entire Korean Peninsula in a verifiable manner.

   The United States will focus on verifying that North Korea is taking clear steps to denuclearize once the six-party talks resume, U.S. chief nuclear negotiator Christopher Hill said on July 1. Hill made the remarks during a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies amid reports that China will convene a new round of the talks late next week.

   Meanwhile, U.S. President George W. Bush signed a bill on June 30 enabling his administration to finance the dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear facilities over the next five years under the multilateral deal.

   HR 2642, the Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2008, overrides the Glenn Amendment, which bans any financial aid to states that have conducted a nuclear test, while permitting sales of nonlethal articles and controlled dual-use equipment or goods necessary for these activities.

   Both the Senate and House of Representatives passed their respective bills in May and worked jointly to transfer a joint bill to Bush for signature. The bill also earmarks US$15 million in energy aid to North Korea.

   The U.S. and the four other nations besides the North in the six-way talks are to provide up to 950,000 tons of heavy fuel oil to North Korea in return for Pyongyang's dismantlement of the facilities under the multilateral deal.

   U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.S. welcomed the demolition of the cooling tower, but stressed a need to move toward the North's eventual denuclearization. "So it is important to put North Korea out of the plutonium business, but that will not be the end of the story."

   On June 28, Rice met South Korean President Lee Myung-bak and Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan in Seoul and urged North Korea to abandon all of its nuclear programs and weapons. In a joint news conference with Yu, Rice emphasized the need for North Korea to continue implementing its obligations.

   North Korea was supposed to submit the declaration by the end of 2007, but missed the deadline as it refused to address questions on its alleged uranium-based nuclear program, nuclear proliferation to Syria and nuclear warheads.

   Financial aid was reportedly given to the North for the destruction of the cooling tower. Some reports said the U.S. provided US$2.5 million, half of the total $5 million cost of the demolition, amid criticism that the Bush administration spent too much taxpayer money for that purpose.

   South Korea's top nuclear envoy Kim Sook said the other parties in the six-way talks should now work even harder to make up for lost time.

   A pivotal question is how much plutonium the North has. U.S. officials believe Pyongyang has 40-60 kg of weapons-grade plutonium, enough to make six to 10 bombs, but the North is insists it has some 40 kg. These questions will be addressed by analysts from the North's five dialogue partners in the six-party talks.

   Another unresolved issue in the six-party talks is the fate of Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s. Japan has vowed to not provide economic aid to the North unless there is a resolution of the issue.

   There is a possibility that North Korea will demand compensation if it destroys the entire nuclear facility. Observers say Pyongyang is likely to demand a light-water reactor in the course of the six-party talks. The U.S. had promised such reactors in return for the shutdown of the North's nuclear facilities to resolve the first nuclear crisis, which ended with the Geneva Agreed Framework in 1994. The deal eventually fell apart following revelations about the North's clandestine uranium enrichment program in 2000.

   The construction of the reactors was suspended in 2002 when the U.S. accused North Korea of running the uranium program and of violating the 1994 agreement.