North Korea documents make debut, at a distance

Posted in Koreas , United States | 14-May-08 | Author: Helene Cooper| Source: International Herald Tribune

Sung Kim, the State Department's Korea expert, shows documents North Korea handed over last week on the North's nuclear program during his news conference at the State Department in Washington May 13, 2008.

WASHINGTON: The State Department, seeking to ward off criticism, kicked off a public-relations offensive on Tuesday by offering reporters a view ? from a distance ? of nuclear documents that senior officials said appeared to represent a complete accounting of North Korea's plutonium production.

Officials brought documents received last week into a briefing room and put them on a table where they could be photographed, but not touched, which might have been tantalizing were it not for the fact that the reports had not been translated.

The 18,000 pages, turned over by North Korea last week, were hailed as a vital step toward the completion of a denuclearization agreement. The administration wants to complete the pact, which could be viewed as a rare foreign policy victory, before President George W. Bush leaves office.

Conservatives have complained that the United States is not getting enough out of North Korea as the two sides try to complete the agreement.

Sung Kim, the director of the State Department's Korea office, said North Korea may have slowed down the pace of its compliance with one part of the deal, which requires the dismantlement of a nuclear reactor at Yongbyon.

"We'd like to see it sped up," Kim said. North Korean officials have indicated that they want to make sure that the United States delivers the fuel oil it has promised to the North before the dismantlement is completed.

Kim, who was in North Korea last week, said his North Korean counterparts had also reiterated their desire to be removed from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, a step the Bush administration has promised if the nuclear deal is completed.

But the documents provided by North Korea do not include any information about two other topics on which it promised to be forthcoming: a uranium program that some officials in the Bush administration regard as another track toward weapons development and North Korea's involvement in the proliferation of nuclear material.

The nuclear pact requires North Korea to disclose all of its nuclear activities, but it remains unclear whether the administration will get much explicit disclosure on uranium and proliferation.

The House on Tuesday debated a bill that is intended to force the administration to hold North Korea to a more stringent standard, requiring it to show that it has stopped providing nuclear assistance to other countries before it is removed from the list.

The White House opposes the bill and administration officials have indicated that the United States might try to finesse the issues, by getting North Korea to acknowledge American concerns without admitting anything. The United States would then try to verify that North Korea had stopped its weapons program by sending inspectors to all of North Korea's nuclear facilities, administration officials said.

Kim said it would take weeks to go through the seven boxes of documents, which relate to North Korea's plutonium program and go back to 1987. They contain information about North Korea's three major campaigns to reprocess plutonium for nuclear weapons, administration officials say.

Also on Tuesday, the White House spokeswoman, Dana Perino, said the United States was looking for ways to get 500,000 tons of food aid to North Korea, perhaps through nongovernmental organizations or the United Nations.

Perino said that such a step would not be linked to the nuclear pact.