- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 26, 2008

SEOUL — The United States wants six-nation talks aimed at ending North Korea’s nuclear programs to begin monitoring transfers of nuclear materials and technology from the North to other countries, U.S. officials said yesterday.

The anti-proliferation focus, for which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is trying to gather support during an East Asian tour this week, is a response to mounting evidence that the North gave nuclear assistance to Syria.

“The North Koreans promised not to engage in nuclear proliferation,” said Christopher R. Hill, the chief U.S. envoy to the six-nation talks. “We want to make sure they follow through on their pledge.”

Mr. Hill was referring to an October agreement in which the North “reaffirmed its commitment not to transfer nuclear materials, technology or know-how.”

All five countries negotiating with the communist state — the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and Russia — have said that they expect Pyongyang to honor its promise.

The Oct. 3 deal, however, did not specify how the nonproliferation pledge would be verified.

Now the Bush administration, alarmed by the Syrian connection, is pushing for “monitoring” the implementation of North Korea’s pledge.

In September, an Israeli air strike targeted what was widely reported to be a nuclear facility in Syria under construction with help from North Korea.

Miss Rice told reporters on Friday that she will discuss during her trip to South Korea, China and Japan “how we use the six-party framework to address proliferation issues.”

“I’m of the mind that we have the right group of countries at that table, with the right set of incentives and disincentives to address not just denuclearization, which obviously is extremely important, but also proliferation,” she said.

Japan and Russia are already members of the U.S.-sponsored “Proliferation Security Initiative,” a voluntary agreement to share intelligence on illicit trade in deadly weapons. China, South Korea and North Korea — the primary target of the effort — have refused to join.

The U.S. initiated the program to avoid the repeat of a 2002 incident, in which it allowed 15 North Korean scud missiles to reach Yemen.

The missiles had been seized by a Spanish ship acting on U.S. intelligence, but the Bush administration decided it lacked authority under international law to block the sale.

Mr. Hill, briefing reporters traveling with Miss Rice yesterday, said the new proposal would involve monitoring the implementation of the entire Oct. 3 agreement, not just North Korea’s obligations.

It would include seeking accountability for the heavy fuel oil the United States must deliver to the North at various stages of the process that would dismantle Pyongyang’s nuclear programs in exchange for political and economic incentives, Mr. Hill said.

In October, North Korea also “agreed to provide a complete and correct declaration of all its nuclear programs” by Dec. 31, but it missed the deadline.

Although it has almost completed the required disablement of its Yongbyon reactor, the declaration remains a major problem.

Ms. Rice will seek to break the impasse when she visits Beijing today by enlisting Chinese help in persuading the North to explain the Syrian issue, a uranium-enrichment program that U.S. intelligence says it discovered in 2002 and other past activities.

Washington has rejected pressure from some of its partners in the six-party talks to compromise on the overdue declaration.

Mr. Hill said earlier this month that those countries had told him, “Well, two out of three is not bad,” and “Why do you worry so much about the past?”

China, eager for progress in the negotiations, is said to be one of those countries. It is also expected to be cool to the new U.S. anti-proliferation proposal.

Japan appears to be on the same page with the United States, as does South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who took office yesterday.

“We understand that the proliferation element is an important part of a complete and accurate declaration. In our view, it is already included in what we expect on the part of [North Korea] as part of the six-party framework,” said Hiroshi Suzuki, a Japanese Foreign Ministry spokesman.

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