- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2003

North Korea has offered to dismantle its nuclear weapons and missile programs in exchange for "considerable" concessions from the United States, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said yesterday.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said later that the North Koreans laid out a long list of demands during talks last week in Beijing, where Pyongyang acknowledged for the first time that it had nuclear weapons. These were the first direct talks between the United States and North Korea in six months.
The demands list, which a senior State Department official called so extensive as to defy a "concise description," included resumption of free heavy-fuel oil shipments, security guarantees, and the normalization of relations with the United States.
"The North Koreans acknowledged a number of things that they were doing and, in effect, said these are now up for further discussion," Mr. Powell told reporters after a meeting with visiting Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Jamil Al-Muasher.
"They did put forward a plan that would ultimately deal with their nuclear capability and their missile activities," the secretary said. "But they, of course, expect something considerable in return."
He said the Bush administration was "studying" the North's proposal and "examining it with our friends and allies," including South Korea, Japan, Russia and Australia.
"It was useful to get it all out on the table and see where we go from here," he said of the April 23-25 talks in Beijing.
Today, North Korea said future nuclear talks with the United States would be useless if Washington sticks to its demand that Pyongyang disarm, without considering the North's offer to scrap its atomic arms for concessions.
"If the U.S. stance is left as it is, future talks would be a waste of time and it is as clear as fire that such talks would offer no help in resolving the nuclear problem," said Minju Joson, a newspaper published by the North Korean Cabinet.
Yesterday, Mr. Powell dismissed as "nonsense" reports that North Korea had informed the State Department on March 31 that it had begun reprocessing 8,000 spent fuel rods and that the rest of the Bush administration was kept in the dark about it.
"Our intelligence community still cannot give us any validation or confirmation of what North Korea has said at various times and in various places with respect to reprocessing," he said.
"What we were told on the 31st was shared within the administration. I'm not sure if everybody in the administration got it, but it isn't relevant because it didn't seem to be anything that was terribly new or different from what we had been told on a regular basis over the last several months. It was not, in our judgment, anything that was particularly new or newsworthy."
On April 18, North Korea issued a statement saying: "As we have already declared, we are successfully reprocessing more than 8,000 spent fuel rods at the final phase."
The statement, which prompted some Bush administration officials to call for canceling the Beijing talks, led to confusion in Washington, where intelligence sources said there was no indication that reprocessing had actually begun.
The State Department blamed the confusion on a bad translation from Korean to English by the North's Korean Central News Agency. According to the department, the statement said Pyongyang was in the final stages of preparing to start reprocessing.
Three days later, the KCNA published a different and ungrammatical translation, saying: "As we have already declared, we are successfully going forward to reprocess work more than 8,000 spent fuel rods at the final phase."
Pyongyang's admission that it has nuclear weapons came on the first day of the Beijing talks. Some U.S. officials say the North fears that the quick military victory in Iraq might embolden Washington to use force against Pyongyang. North Korea, with Iran and prewar Iraq, constitute President Bush's "axis of evil."
U.S. intelligence agencies estimated years ago that North Korea had one or two nuclear weapons. But Pyongyang's admission is significant in terms of how the rest of the world views the North Korean threat, diplomats and arms-control analysts said.
The United States wanted South Korea and Japan to participate in the meetings with North Korea, but Pyongyang insisted on direct dialogue with Washington. The three-way meeting hosted by China was a compromise.
The head of the U.S. delegation, James Kelly, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, is the highest-ranking Bush administration official to visit Pyongyang. During a trip there in early October, he confronted the North with intelligence that it had developed a secret uranium-enrichment program, violating a 1994 nuclear deal known as the Agreed Framework.
The North, which then reportedly admitted to having the program, reopened its nuclear complex in December and expelled weapons inspectors from the United Nations. In January, it withdrew from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

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