- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2008

The Bush administration made another concession to North Korea yesterday by agreeing to keep secret part of a required declaration of the country’s nuclear programs, saving Pyongyang a public embarrassment from its proliferation activities.

The decision is likely to figure in weekend talks at Camp David between President Bush and South Korea’s newly elected President Lee Myung-bak, who came into office in February pledging to take a tough stand toward his northern neighbor.

“Not everything in diplomacy is public,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters in explaining the decision to reporters

For weeks, Miss Rice had insisted that North Korea publicly disclose all its past nuclear activities, including its bomb-making with plutonium, any efforts to enrich uranium and any transfers of nuclear technology to other countries.

North Korea’s refusal to address those demands had stalled six-nation talks to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula for months.

Carefully choosing her language yesterday, Miss Rice promised to give the public “a sense” of what North Korea had done.

“There would be information so that there would be confidence about what the arrangements would be,” she said, offering to brief Congress on the issue.

The administration had previously agreed to allow the North Koreans to address a uranium-enrichment program Washington says they developed in the 1990s, as well as nuclear-related transfers to Syria and other countries, in a document separate from the main declaration.

That main part, which is required by an October deal reached in six-nation negotiations, would focus on the North’s plutonium program. Both plutonium and highly enriched uranium can be used to make atomic bombs.

The Washington Times reported in February that a secret document was being negotiated as a way for Pyongyang to save face, since it has never publicly acknowledged the uranium-enrichment program. At the time, administration officials denied that report.

At the White House yesterday, Dennis Wilder, senior director for East Asian affairs at the National Security Council, confirmed that non-plutonium issues will be addressed in a separate document prepared in “side negotiations that the United States has had with the North Koreans.”

“That’s a different matter, because that involves different kinds of activities, such as proliferation, and that is being handled in a different manner,” he said.

Miss Rice also suggested that the North would not have to wait for its declaration to be verified before it received some of the political and economic rewards it has been promised, such as removal from the U.S. blacklist of state sponsors of terrorism.

“Verification takes some time, because these are complex programs,” she said. Even if the United States were to take the North off the blacklist, “we have a long way to go in terms of all of the various statutory sanctions and multilateral and bilateral sanctions that would remain.”

John R. Bolton, who was undersecretary of state for arms control and international security during Mr. Bush’s first term, said the administration is “obviously in full retreat.”

“I think [removal from the terror list] will happen in a few weeks, and it will be a disgrace,” he said. “They think the plutonium issue is the only one that matters, and it’s a potentially fatal mistake.”

Both Miss Rice and Mr. Wilder insisted, however, that Washington will receive all the information it has demanded, regardless of the form in which it is submitted to China, which leads the six-party talks. The negotiations also include Japan, South Korea and Russia.

“The outcome we and our partners require is a full account from North Korea of all its nuclear programs, including any uranium and nuclear proliferation activities,” Miss Rice said.

It was not clear, however, whether the separate document will be submitted at the same time as the main declaration.

A State Department official said that Sung Kim, director of the department’s Korea office, will travel to Pyongyang next week to finalize the agreement with the North, which was reached in principle last week in Singapore between the two chief negotiators, Christopher Hill and Kim Kye-gwan.

North Korea has shut down and almost disabled its main nuclear complex at Yongbyon, but the goal of the six-party process is to “irreversibly” dismantle its programs. The declaration, which was due by Dec. 31, is necessary to make sure the North has scrapped everything.

The United States also wants to know what happened to any past programs. A Syrian facility targeted by an Israeli air strike in September has become a major issue for Washington because it was widely reported to be a nuclear site under construction with help from North Korea.

Sean Lengell contributed to this report.

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