(by Bill Gertz, Jan. 23, 2008, WashingtonTimes.com) – North Korea’s recent discussions with the United States about a required declaration under the six-nation nuclear talks omitted key data on Pyongyang’s current nuclear arsenal and its covert uranium enrichment program, U.S. officials say.
The failure to provide the information in a formal declaration, combined with North Korea’s Jan. 4 public statement asserting it already made the declaration, left the four years of talks frozen amid newly disclosed intelligence showing North Korea at one time had equipment with traces of 90 percent enriched uranium, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
One official said North Korea some time ago provided the U.S. government with a sample of a specialty metal supposedly melted down from tubes the North Koreans claim were meant for non-nuclear purposes. Pyongyang had hoped the sample would dispel suspicions about the covert uranium enrichment program that North Korean officials have at different times both admitted and denied having.
Instead, ultrasensitive detectors found traces of the highly enriched uranium. “The North Koreans thought we would not be able to detect the traces,” the official said.
A second official declined to comment on the uranium traces found on the sample, first reported in The Washington Post last month, because it involves sensitive intelligence.
However, this official, who has detailed knowledge of Asian affairs, said there is no change in the high level of confidence among U.S. intelligence agencies that North Korea sought to develop a enriched uranium for weapons at least since 2002. A slowdown in procurement activity led to change in the confidence level in 2006, but major concerns about the program remain.
“Uranium enrichment is a critical issue with North Korea,” this official said. “Their efforts to acquire the fuel, the infrastructure necessary to enrich uranium has always been a critical issue in our discussions in the six-party talks, and it’s still there. That’s why with the declaration one would hope they’ll be forthcoming on this issue.”
Assistant Secretary of State Christopher R. Hill, the lead U.S. negotiator, recently spoke to a North Korean official about the declaration, and Mr. Hill thought the discussion was about what North Korea planned to put in a formal declaration due by Dec. 31.
But on Jan. 4 a North Korean government spokesman announced that the declaration was made. The U.S. official said that if it was the declaration, it is “very deficient” and lacked details of both the current North Korean nuclear weapons arsenal and the covert uranium enrichment program.
“It wasn’t comprehensive by any means, and they were told so, and we said ‘this is what we’re looking for in the declaration; you need to be forthcoming on these points,’ ” said the official, describing what was disclosed as “totally off the mark.”
The North Koreans were asked to “rework” the issue and come back with a comprehensive statement, the official said.
On uranium enrichment, “no, they have not admitted to any procurement that speaks to any intent to enrich uranium,” the official said. “They have continued to deny making any acquisitions” for “acquiring the capability to enrich uranium.”
The lack of detail on current nuclear arms was a surprise to U.S. officials because North Korea tested a nuclear device, with partial success, in October 2006. The official said there are no “indicators that they are planning any additional tests.”
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NOTE: Enriched uranium is needed to make nuclear weapons. It is made in a centrifuge.
1. What information was North Korea required to provide by Dec. 31 in a formal declaration on their nuclear program?
2. What statement did the North Korean government make on January 4, 2008?
3. Why did the North Korean government provide the U.S. government with a sample of a specialty metal they said was melted down from tubes meant for non-nuclear purposes?
4. What did the U.S. find in the sample?
5. Read the “Background” on North Korea above. Should the next U.S. president continue the same policy on North Korea that President Bush’s State Department is pursuing? Which candidate most closely
shares your views. (For information on where they stand on North Korea, go to each individual candidate’s website or visit ontheissues.org.)
NORTH KOREA’S NUCLEAR WEAPONS PROGRAM and THE SIX-PARTY TALKS:
- The six-party talks are a series of meetings with six participating states – the U.S., Japan, China, South Korea, North Korea and Russia.
- These talks were a result of North Korea withdrawing from the U.N.’s Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2003. North Korea is led by dictator Kim Jong-Il, who has starved and imprisoned millions of his own people.
- The aim of the talks is to find a peaceful resolution to the security concerns raised by the North Korean nuclear weapons program.
- After five rounds of talks from 2003 to 2007, little progress had been made.
- September 2005, as a result of illegal acts committed by the North Korean government, including the counterfeiting of U.S. money, the U.S. froze North Korea’s overseas bank accounts. The North Korean government then refused to participate in further six-party talks.
- April 2006, North Korea said they would resume talks only with the U.S. (not six-party), if the U.S. released recently frozen North Korean financial assets held in a bank in Macau. The U.S. did not comply with the request.
- October 2006 North Korea conducted a test of a nuclear weapon.
- December 2006 six-party talks resumed.
- In February 2007, North Korea agreed to shut down its nuclear facilities in exchange for fuel aid and steps towards the normalization of relations with the United States and Japan. Negotiations then stalled through July.
- In October 2007 an agreement was made among the six countries negotiating the end of the North’s nuclear program. Under the agreement, North Korea would start getting energy and other economic assistance from the U.S. and others, as well as begin normalizing relations with the United States and Japan. In exchange for this, by Dec. 31, 2007 North Korea was supposed to provide a written declaration disclosing all of its nuclear materials and capabilities as well as disable its main reactor at Yongbyon.
- For further information the six-party talks, go to wikipedia.org.
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