- The Washington Times - Monday, November 24, 2008

Current and former U.S. officials say the Bush administration has put unprecedented trust in North Korea’s regime - a charter member of its “axis of evil” - and accepted verbal agreements that Pyongyang now disputes, with potentially unsettling implications for arms control.

Most recently, the administration has taken as sufficient an oral commitment by North Korea to allow sampling and other scientific activities to verify its nuclear history - a pledge the North says it never made.

The only written account of that promise - which the officials say was given privately to chief U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill by his North Korean counterpart, Kim Kye-gwan, in Pyongyang last month - is in a “memorandum of conversation” written by Mr. Hill to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

North Korea, however, insists that it never agreed to sampling and other measures to verify a nuclear declaration it submitted in June to six-nation disarmament talks. In a statement earlier this month, the North said it accepted a document with no specific enforcement measures.

Miss Rice told reporters Sunday that leaders of the United States, Russia, China, South Korea and Japan agreed during a weekend economic summit in Peru to meet in China Dec. 8 to try to clarify the situation.

The State Department says it has not released Mr. Hill’s memorandum to Miss Rice because it is an internal document.

Mr. Hill told other members of the administration that the North Koreans were blustering, according to a former senior official who still maintains regular contact with his ex-colleagues. He requested anonymity because he was discussing private conversations.

Mr. Hill and his aides declined to comment, but a senior State Department official did not dispute the former official’s account. The official also conceded that no written, audio or video evidence exists of North Korea’s commitment to allow sampling at its nuclear sites.

Department spokesman Sean McCormack said:

“The U.S.-North Korea agreement on verification measures has been codified in a joint document between the United States and North Korea and certain other understandings, and has been reaffirmed through intensive consultations.”

In an indication of doubt about Mr. Kim’s private commitment, an Asia analyst at a Washington think tank said he received a call from the State Department after Mr. Hill returned from Pyongyang and was told that U.S. officials “hoped” the North would agree to the understandings in the near future.

The “understandings,” which include the specific measures and were written by the United States, have been released, but the main agreement has not.

Neither of the documents was signed, said officials close to the negotiations who asked not to be named. In fact, the officials said, none of the six-party documents has been signed.

There is a major difference, however, between agreements reached in multilateral negotiations, where six countries’ representatives sit in the same room, and bilateral accords between two enemies. In this case, the United States was negotiating bilaterally as head of the so-called “verification working group” in the six-party talks.

The Agreed Framework, a 1994 U.S.-North Korea accord negotiated by the Clinton administration that froze the North’s plutonium program, was signed by both sides, said Robert Gallucci, a top negotiator who signed for the United States.

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