North Korea to stop nuclear production, U.S. says
The top American negotiator with North Korea said Sunday that the country had agreed to disable its main nuclear fuel production plant by the end of the year and to account to international monitors for all of its nuclear programs, including what American intelligence agencies say they believe was a second, secret program purchased from Pakistan.
At the end of a two-day meeting in Geneva — exactly the kind of one-on-one session that the Bush administration had refused to hold in recent years — Christopher Hill, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said the two sides had agreed on what would be a speedy next step, following action by North Korea this summer to turn off its main nuclear reactor.
"One thing that we agreed on is that the D.P.R.K. will provide a full declaration of all of their nuclear programs and will disable their nuclear programs by the end of this year, 2007," Hill told reporters in Geneva, according to The Associated Press. He was using the initials for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, the North's formal name.
But in a separate news conference, his counterpart, Kim Kye-gwan, who heads the North Korean negotiating team, made no mention of an end-of-the-year deadline. He spoke instead of an accord to disable North Korea's equipment and provide an accounting of its facilities, fuel and weapons in return for what he called "political and economic compensation."
If the North Koreans meet the schedule and disable their equipment, it would be a major victory for the Bush administration, at a time when it is eager to claim progress on some diplomatic front to offset its problems in Iraq. Whether to offer the North rewards, including oil and, eventually, removal from the list of state sponsors of terrorism and diplomatic recognition, has been the subject of a six-year struggle within the Bush administration.
But most of the hawks who have opposed such offers are now gone, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has given Hill far more latitude to strike a deal, and to meet the North Koreans outside of "six party talks" — the discussions that have also included Russia, China, Japan and South Korea. Those talks are expected to resume in mid-September, and the weekend meeting was cast as a prelude to any agreement reached there.
The hawks are still unhappy, and have suggested that Hill is giving away too much.
"There is still simply no evidence that Pyongyang has made a decision to abandon its long-held strategic objective to have a credible nuclear-weapons capability," John Bolton, the former American ambassador to the United Nations and, in President George W. Bush's first term, the top State Department official on counterproliferation, wrote in The Asian Wall Street Journal this weekend.
"This inconvenient fact should make it impossible for the State Department to concede on other issues, even if it were inclined to do so," he said. "Creative minds are therefore working on ways to explain that any forthcoming North Korean declaration of its nuclear capabilities is 'full and complete,' thus eliminating the remaining troubling obstacles to full normalization of relations."
When the Bush administration came into office, North Korea was still appearing to abide by a nuclear freeze that it had negotiated in 1994 with the Clinton administration. But that deal fell apart after the Bush administration accused the North of cheating on the agreement, purchasing uranium enrichment equipment from Abdul Qadeer Khan's nuclear network, based in Pakistan.
While Khan and his associates have confirmed they made such sales, it is unclear what, if anything, the North did with the equipment. Hill said Sunday that that question would have to be answered as part of any full declaration. American intelligence agencies said earlier this year that they were uncertain what progress the North had made with that program, if any.
The North Koreans conducted a nuclear test last October, though it was not entirely successful. It is unclear how many other nuclear devices they have produced, though intelligence agencies have estimated that they may have the material for between eight and a dozen. The administration's critics, including Bolton, have said it is almost impossible to imagine that the North would say how many weapons it had or where those weapons, or the fuel to manufacture new ones, were situated. So far, there is no agreement for an intrusive inspection system.
Still, if the facilities at the Yongbyon nuclear plant are truly "disabled," a term no one has yet defined, it would probably prevent the North from manufacturing new weapons and expanding its arsenal. Kim said Sunday that "we made it clear, we showed clear willingness to declare and dismantle all nuclear facilities."
Hill said that "we have to work out some of the details" on exactly what facilities would be disabled. "We will have a declaration in time to disable what needs to be disabled," he said, adding that "for example, the Yongbyon reactor would have to be included."