- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2008

The Bush administration is renegotiating a tentative deal with North Korea on a declaration of its nuclear activities to include better verification provisions, after the agreement upset some on Capitol Hill and even in the administration, officials said yesterday.

After insisting for months that Pyongyang disclose any nuclear exports, as well as a secret uranium-enrichment program from the 1990s, the administration agreed two weeks ago to write what it knows about those activities and have the North “acknowledge” the U.S. concerns.

“That was a major change, and many people were caught by surprise,” one congressional official said.

In an attempt to address concerns about the shift on the declaration, the administration now emphasizes the importance of verification of the North’s secret activities.

Congressional support for any deal with Pyongyang is crucial because it is likely to require legislative approval, and U.S. taxpayers’ money will be needed to dismantle the North’s nuclear programs.

Video:White House: N. Korea assisted Syria on nukes

In a letter to President Bush on Wednesday, 14 Republican senators expressed “concern about the present course of action on North Korea’s nuclear program being pursued” by the administration.

Although they did not mention the April 7 Singapore talks between chief U.S. negotiator Christopher Hill and his North Korean counterpart, Kim Kye-gwan, the senators said that the current state of negotiations sends the wrong message to Iran and other “rogue regimes.”

The administration told Congress in intelligence briefings yesterday that a nuclear facility in Syria flattened by an Israeli air strike in September was built with Pyongyang’s help.

“From all appearances, Kim Jong-il believes that the United States will take whatever deal we can get, allowing him to dictate the time, place, manner and content of the fulfillment of his promises,” the senators said.

The letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, was signed by Sens. John Ensign of Nevada and Jon Kyl of Arizona, among others.

Because Congress has not yet been briefed on the Singapore agreement, officials declined to discuss it publicly. But in their private remarks, some said that, even though it seems peculiar, it is worth considering.

“What’s important is to achieve removal of North Korea’s plutonium program,” a congressional source said. “That might require some sacrifices.”

The Bush administration says that, even though Washington will write the document, it is seeking full access to any sites that might be linked to those activities, so it can verify the North Korean claim that they are not ongoing.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took pains last week in a briefing to reporters to stress that, if the United States discovered that it had been “misled” by the North, any benefits it has received in the meantime would be taken away.

Miss Rice suggested that one of those benefits — removal from the U.S. blacklist of state-sponsors of terrorism — would not have to wait until all verification is completed.

She sent the director of the State Department’s Korea desk, Sung Kim, to Pyongyang this week to fine-tune the Singapore agreement and make sure that the final result of the declaration does not suffer from the fact that the United States will write the part on proliferation and uranium-enrichment.

North Korea has promised to produce the main part of the declaration dealing with its plutonium program. The main facility of that program at Yongbyon has been almost disabled by U.S. experts.

In the next phase of the North’s denuclearization, Yongbyon must be dismantled, again with a large U.S. role in the process. The administration, however, is barred from using taxpayers’ money by a 1994 law known as the Glenn amendment, sponsored by then-Sen. John Glenn.

“Congress should swiftly enact legislation allowing the president to waive the Glenn amendment restrictions that will otherwise prevent the United States from carrying out future nuclear dismantlement operations in North Korea or verifying North Korean compliance,” Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said yesterday.

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